Sermon: The Mission of God

I spoke at Mizzou Chi Alpha this past Tuesday night, November 8th, 2011. I talked about the topic of world missions, one that’s obviously near and dear to my heart. I wanted to share that talk with you, and so I’ve given you several options below if you want to know what I had to say. You can listen to or download the sermon; I’ve included the PowerPoint presentation that went with it; and then there’s the full text of what I said, which more or less corresponds to the actual sermon I delivered. I’d love your feedback!

(Some of the slides look a little strange because when I uploaded them it didn’t cut off the margins like PowerPoint did, but hopefully you can follow along okay anyway.)

So, I’m Scott. You saw my beautiful wife Elisa in the video, whom you hopefully will all get to meet soon. As you heard from Julie and the video, I spent the last 2 years in Kazakhstan doing missionary work. That’s actually where I met Elisa—so right off the bat, there’s a reason you all should become missionaries! Just kidding. Like Tom said at Catalyst last week, Chi Alpha is not a dating service and neither is becoming a missionary. I lived in a big city called Almaty, which has about 2 million people. I was helping to start a Chi Alpha—although there we actually called it One More Friend. It was amazing and scary all at the same time.

One of the most beautiful moments the entire first year that I was there was Christmas Eve. We’d been there for four months at that point, and had been pouring into these Muslim-background students, but hadn’t seen anyone become a Christian yet. On Christmas Eve, several of us, including one student named Rimma, went to the local, English-speaking international church to see their nativity play put on by the children there… and, strangely, one adult Nigerian man as the angel Gabriel. It was nice, and afterward the pastor gave a short message about Jesus, and then he gave an altar call. One hand was raised in the entire auditorium. And it was Rimma’s. Honestly, guys, it was the first Christmas I’d ever spent away from my family, but it was the best Christmas gift I’d ever received. Since then Rimma has been growing up into a woman that is completely sold out for God. She’s now gone on two summer-long missions trips to Kyrgyzstan, the country just south of Kazakhstan, where she taught baseball to children and led many, many of them to the Lord.

You know, most of the work that went into discipling Rimma into the Kingdom wasn’t done by me. It was done by several of the women who were on my team. But I found out only recently that I was the first person that Rimma met from our group. I’d invited her to come play dodgeball with us, and I don’t remember that at all. But I realize that Rimma and several others who have given their lives to Jesus in Kazakhstan might not be believers today, except that I listened to God and did what He wants us to do.

And what God wants is clearly spoken to us through the scriptures. So, we’re going to look at briefly what’s commonly referred to as the Great Commission.

“Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations,baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20).

Now, I realize that for many of us in this room, we’ve heard this so many times that it’s kind of lost its impact. But if we really listen to these verses, I think that God can really speak to us. Let me share a couple stories with you.

One time, a pastor was sitting at her desk working on her upcoming sermon, and a man, one of the church members, ran in, frantic, obviously having run all the way there. “What’s wrong?” the pastor asked. The man said, “There’s a family right down the street from the church that are in trouble. The man just lost his job. The wife’s at home taking care of their 3 kids and her sick mother. They’re one day late on their rent and if they don’t pay it by tomorrow, they’ll be kicked out on the streets! And it’s snowing outside. Do you think there’s anything we can do?” “Yeah,” the pastor said, “Give me a minute, but I’m sure we can get some money together and pay the rent.” “Oh, that’s fantastic,” the man said. “By the way,” the pastor asked, “how do you know the family?” “Oh,” the man replied, “I’m the landlord.”

I hope I’m not ruining how jokes work for you, but the reason that this joke is funny is because it’s ironic that the landlord, on the one hand, is obviously emotionally distraught over the family potentially being kicked out onto the streets, but at the same time the landlord doesn’t realize that he holds in his hands the power to change their situation.

I remember when I was about 15 or 16 years old. I hadn’t been a Christian for very long, but as I was learning more about my faith I was coming to a bit of a crisis. You know, I’d come to believe that Jesus is the only way to have eternal life. And it became clear to me that there are billions of people in the world today who not only don’t know Jesus, but have never even heard about Him. It tormented me; I was distraught. I would lay in bed at night crying, unable to go to sleep. I would ask God, “Why don’t you do anything?” And then He spoke to me in one of the clearest ways He’s ever spoken to me. He said, “Why don’t you?”

At that moment, I realized: I’m the landlord. I hold the power to change the situation of these people who have never had the opportunity to hear the Gospel. I realized that I could be one of those people who took the Great Commission at its word and could go. And that was scary because it means that I have a responsibility.

But over the next few years, I tried to escape that responsibility, like any good teenager. I tried to find reasons why my role in reaching the world with the good news of Jesus was really to stay at home and send by giving money or by encouraging others to go.

I want to talk about two things that were keeping me, and I think keep most of us, from applying the Great Commission to ourselves: we’re comfortable and we’re afraid.

I want to confess something to you: I don’t like conflict. Left to my own devices, I would try to please everyone everywhere at every time no matter what. I just hate conflict because conflict is uncomfortable and I don’t like being uncomfortable. I imagine most of you don’t either. I think that most of us would rather be comfortable than to deal with conflict. And the radical story that the Great Commission and the Gospel call us to conflicts with the story we’ve been told we’re supposed to live.

Let me show you. I want to tell you a story, but I want to do this together. So, I’m going to say a sentence, and I’m going to pause, and I want you guys to fill in the blank. So I want all of you to participate. Ok. Are you guys ready? Here’s a story that you all know.

You studied hard in high school so you could get into a good ______ (college).  You study hard in college so you can get a good _______ (job). And if you get a good job, you can make a lot of ______ (money). And if you make a lot of money, you can buy a lot of stuff.

This is the story that most of us are living. Let’s be honest, the reason most of you are studying here at Mizzou or Columbia College is because you know that if you get a good education, you can get a good job, and make a lot of money and buy whatever you want. Now, don’t get me wrong; I’m not against education. I went to Mizzou, and it was one of the best things that ever happened to me. But what I am saying is that the purpose of education is not so that we can make a lot of money & buy a lot of stuff; it’s so we can serve Jesus and His mission better! That’s not the story we’ve been taught, but it’s the story of the Gospel and of the Great Commission.

We’re comfortable right now, and we want to be comfortable in the future; and missions—the Great Commission—is not comfortable. It means we won’t have a high-paying job. It means we’ll be far from our families and friends. And so we say that the Great Commission, to go and make disciples of all nations, is not for us. And we spiritualize it and say it’s because we’re not called. But that’s not true. It’s because we’re afraid.

I think fear, if we’re honest with ourselves, is the number one reason why we don’t even open ourselves up to God and consider that He might want us to leave it all behind and become a missionary.

We’re afraid because we think we’ll lose significance. We’re afraid because we feel like we won’t really be doing a real job, that we’ll be begging for money. I remember going to my Grandma the summer between my first and second year to ask her if she’d like to continue financially supporting me. She paused, then said, “Well, I guess, but when are you going to support yourself?” And that crushed me.

We’re afraid because we think we’ll lose respect. We’re afraid of what our families will say. Even those of us who grew up in Christian homes. We’re afraid that if we tell our parents that we want to give a year to missions after we graduate, they’ll threaten to stop helping us pay for college. Or just say no. Most of my extended family doesn’t go to church, and so I know that while they love me, they don’t respect what I do. Maybe me helping some special-needs orphans like I did occasionally was good, but they think that me spending the majority of my time sharing the Gospel with Muslim college students is a waste of my education and my potential.

And finally, maybe some of us are afraid of losing our security. We’re afraid of trouble and danger and even death. I remember being brought into the office of the language director at the center where we were studying Russian. She sat me down and told me that if I didn’t stop talking to students about Jesus, she’d have me kicked out of the university, and I’d lose my visa to stay in the country. And I remember later, when I didn’t stop, me and my teammates being brought into the president of the university’s office. As we walked into the room, we saw, laid out on the table, several Bibles, worship CDs, and invitations to events that we’d given out. You can see some of the Bibles that were on that table in the photo back here. [refer to slide] Evidently, some of the students we’d been meeting had been spies. They told us if we didn’t stop, we’d get kicked out of the country. Fortunately, most of us were only going to be there for another week or two anyway.

And all those fears could come true. But the people we admire, our heroes, are not the people that quietly sat at home. There’s a reason children aspire to jobs like astronauts and firemen and superheroes. We want our heroes to be brave because we want to be brave.

And the heroes of the faith are people who weren’t just brave, but they were people that were brave and bold for God, people that were willing to make sacrifices to do the will of God. One of my favorite stories from the Old Testament is about these three guys, Shadrach, Meshach & Abednego. The king threatened to throw them into a fiery furnace unless they bowed down & worshiped him, but they said, “Our God is able to save, AND He will save us. BUT IF NOT, we will still not bow down and worship you.” I don’t know about you, but the logic of God can save and He will save don’t exactly go with “but if he doesn’t save.” But they had all their bases covered.

These three are the heroes of our faith because they were willing to do the hard, right thing. They trusted in God’s power to save them, and they said, “even if He does not save us, we will still trust in Him.”

I promise that none of us will regret doing the hard, right thing of going to a people that don’t have the gospel and sharing it with them for the very first time. And it is so needed. In Matthew 9:37-38, Jesus told his disciples that “The harvest is great, but the workers are few. So pray to the Lord who is in charge of the harvest; ask him to send more workers into his fields.”

I’m not sure what you guys are thinking now, but I wouldn’t be surprised if a few of you are saying to yourselves, “That’s great, Scott. But we’ve got a lot of people here at home in Columbia, Missouri who are lost. Let’s get that under control, and then we’ll worry about lost people on the other side of the world.”

And I think that’s a good point. God definitely cares about people in Columbia, Missouri. I wouldn’t be here if He didn’t and if I didn’t. But let me give you a little perspective.

Recently, you might have heard that there are officially over 7 billion people on the planet. About 2 billion people in the world today are Christians. But there are another 2 billion who don’t get talked about as much. This 2 billion live in parts of the world where they know no one who can share with them the story of Jesus. I didn’t say that these 2 billion don’t know Jesus. They don’t, but they also don’t even know where to begin looking. Jesus said that He stands at the door and knocks; well, these people don’t even know that there is a door.

To put this in another perspective, there are more than 1 in 4 people in the world who are completely cut off from the Gospel. It’s not that they’ve rejected Jesus, but they’ve never had the chance to choose to reject Him… or to choose to follow Him.

I know several missionaries in Turkey. They tell me that there are only around 4,000 known Evangelical Christians in the country of 70 million. That means that you would have to shake 20,000 people’s hands before you met a believer. This slide actually shows what it would look like if there were 4 hundred thousand Evangelical Christians in Turkey. I had to multiply by 100 just to get it to show up on the graph.

Here’s what 4,000 would actually look like.

I remember one time in Kazakhstan my friend Jon was talking to a girl, and she asked how Christians pray. He said, “Oh, we can pray anywhere. Sometimes I pray in my room, but sometimes I pray while riding my bike.” The conversation continued and gradually a group of other students gathered to listen. Jon asked them, “I know what you as Muslims believe about how to get to heaven, but do you know what Christians believe?” Not one of these 10 or so college students could answer the question. Finally, the original girl piped up. “I know! You go to heaven by praying while riding your bike!”

I wish I were making this stuff up. But stuff like this happened to me all the time.

So, how is it possible that almost 2000 years after Jesus, so many are still unreached with the Gospel?

We’re afraid. And we’re comfortable. We think the calling is for someone else. We say, I’ll help to send someone else, but all those someone elses are thinking the exact same thing. And unfortunately, even of those who do go, 90% of missionaries are working in groups where there are already significant enough church movements that those groups could begin to evangelize their own people. Let me explain this chart a little bit. About 32% of the world is made of Christians—any denomination of Christian, including those who don’t practice. Another 27% are Non-Christians in “reached groups.” And by that, I mean those groups where there’s already a significant church movement. South Korea is a great example. The biggest church in the world’s in South Korea. Are there still a lot of Non-Christians there? You bet. So, 90% of missionaries are working with this 60% of the world who are either already Christians or who have their own churches to evangelize them. This other 40% who have no church in their group is left to this meager 10%. We’re afraid and we’re comfortable.

I don’t want to guilt you guys. Guilt is a terrible motivator. So, if you’re feeling guilty, don’t. Stop it. But I do want communicate to you guys the immense need that exists. Most of you were probably unaware of how uneven the Gospel is spread around the world. You may have not realized how difficult it for some people to even hear the Gospel.

I want to communicate to you that we are the landlords in that joke I told at the beginning. We hold the power to change people’s lives, to change whole groups of people’s lives. And I think that many of us have never really thought about long-term missions because no one ever told us that we could do it. But I’m telling you now, I know you can do it, I know we can do it because I’ve seen the amazing things that God is doing in and through us here at Chi Alpha.

So what are we waiting for? Are you waiting for God to tell you to go to the Middle East? [God voice] “Go to the Middle East!” “Go to Africa!” “Go to China!” Chinese people love Jesus! They just need to hear about Him.

I don’t know if I was every really called; I just had a burden and I volunteered. My freshman year, a guy came and spoke at Chi Alpha, and he said, “After you graduate, give a year to world missions and pray about a lifetime.” I found myself going up and volunteering. After I graduated, I stayed true to my promise and, honestly, it was the best decision I ever made. I loved it and I found myself saying that I wanted to give a lifetime.

I want to challenge you guys, too. Maybe some of you have never even been on a short-term missions trip. Every summer, Chi Alpha goes on a trip to Jamaica for about 10 days at the end of May. Go on that. Get out of your comfort zone, overcome your fear, and do it. There’s a signup sheet outside, and when we leave, put your name on it.

But there are others of you, and you’re really where my heart is. You’ve gone on the short-term trips, you’ve done that. I want to challenge you with the same challenge I got. After you graduate, give a year to world missions, give a year to the 2 billion who missionaries rarely go to because they’re afraid or comfortable, and pray about giving a lifetime. I promise you, you will not regret it. And neither will the people that you share the Gospel with for the first time in the entire lives.

I want to pray with you guys, so could you please bow your heads and close your eyes.

There are probably some of you here tonight who are saying to yourselves, I like what you’re saying Scott, but I don’t even know Jesus. There are maybe some of you that you feel God knocking at the door of your hearts. You realize that you haven’t been living a meaningful life, that you’ve been chasing things that are going to fade. That feeling you’re feeling inside is Jesus. He wants you to know Him, He wants you to love Him, He wants you to follow Him, He wants to be your Lord and Savior. Saying yes to Him is easy, but the life after that may not be. But I promise you that it is worth it. If any of you would like to begin to follow Jesus for the first time or rededicate your life to Him, please slip up your hand, and we’ll pray together.

Finally, some of you are probably feeling a tug on your heart, that you don’t want your life to be defined by what you’re afraid of, that you don’t want to just live a comfortable, cookie-cutter life, and you want to dedicate yourself to God’s mission of reaching the world through the Great Commission. For some of you, that might mean beginning to give financially to missions, for others it might mean going to Jamaica this spring for the first time, and for some of you it might mean that after you graduate, you do what I did and you give a year to world missions. I want to pray with you. In just a second, I’ll ask you guys to be bold, and to get out of your seats and come up front. I, the staff, and some of the student leadership will pray with you. If that’s any of you, please come up front and let’s pray.

 

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2 comments

  1. Right on, my friend. :) I think, especially the times being as they are and world missions being looked upon as something that’s not cool anymore (by some groups of progressive christians), it needs to be something people hear very clearly. thanks for doing that! :)

  2. Tiffany,

    I think there’s a great need in the world for humanitarian missions trips. But that has a lot of very vocal proponents. Like you said, evangelistic missions work is not that “cool.” That’s why I focused on that aspect. My belief is that if unbelievers become discipled followers of Jesus, humanitarian needs will be met as a natural outgrowth of the church’s growth. Kind of a “Give a man a fish” vs. “teach a man to fish” philosophy.

    Thank YOU Tiffany for partnering with us!

    –Scott

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