Well, here we are at the end of missions month and, for some of you, it’s been very successful! You started out with this philosophy: I don’t care how many pictures they show me of snotty nosed, cantolope-bellied, emaciated children; I don’t care how many times I hear the term, “Great Commission”; I don’t care how many times I hear the Choir sing “I Will Go”; I ain’t going and you can’t make me. And, so far, you’re right. You began the mission’s conference unmoved and you’re planning to end it that way.
So, contrary to what you might think, I’m not here today to make you feel guilty, I’m here to help you out. Let me tell you the top six ways you can avoid becoming a missionary. Here they are. Some of you have never taken a note in a message before, but you’re about to start writing because I’m finally saying something you think is important. So here goes. Here are the top six ways to avoid becoming a missionary:
6 Worry incessantly about money. That one will stop you right there because becoming a missionary means you really have to depend on God to sustain you, and who would want to do that? After all, He’s only the sovereign God and sole owner of the Universe. Want to avoid the mission field? Then worry incessantly about money.
5 Always imagine missionaries as talented, super-spiritual people who stand on lofty pedestals. Maintaining this image of missionaries will heighten your own sense of inadequacy. Convincing yourself that God does not use ordinary people as missionaries will smother any guilt you may feel about refusing to even listen for a call from God.
4 Stay away from missionaries. Their testimonies can be disturbing. The situations they describe will distract you from embracing whole-heartedly the materialistic lifestyle of the United States.
3 Get married to somebody who thinks the "Great Commission" is what your employer gives you after you make a big sale. After marriage, embrace the socially accepted norms of settling down, establishing a respectable career trajectory and raising a picture-perfect family.
2 Focus your energies on socially legitimate targets. Go after a bigger salary. Focus on getting a job promotion, a bigger home, a more luxurious car, or future financial security. Along the way, run up some big credit card debts.
1 Ignore Jesus' request in John 4:35 that we take a long hard look at the fields. Seeing the needs of people can be depressing and very unsettling. It could lead to genuine missionary concern. (John 4:35 "Do you not say, `Four months more and then the harvest'? I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest."
It is that very passage of scripture we’ve been looking at together this month and it bears listening to. You see, while you may want to avoid the whole “missionary question,” you really cannot! The Great Commission isn’t the “Great Option”. Jesus didn’t say that we were to be witnesses for Him if we felt like it, or if we just happened to attend an evangelistic church. He told us to be witnesses. So we as believers have no choice, not if He is Lord. We must obey His commission.
And just what is it that makes that so hard to obey? Just why do we so often run from becoming a missionary, here or around the world? Well, for one thing we have no VISION. See, I know that’s the case of so many of us here, even today. If you have no vision, this missions conference has been a big bore. You just don’t get it. You’re the guy who hears about a mission trip and asks, “Why are perfectly normal people giving up a week of vacation, spending thousands of dollars and endangering their health and safety to travel to Peru and help build a church on the Amazon? Why is a perfectly healthy church interrupting the pastor’s riveting series (Ok, I know that’s real self-serving, but I’m the one preaching ok?) Why is a perfectly healthy church interrupting the pastor’s riveting series to bring in missionaries to make us feel guilty. You don’t get it because you have no vision. You need to listen this morning.
Others of us run from the whle missionary thing because we have no strategy. All you can see is a big mass of people who need help and you won’t allow yourself to really look at them because you just get overwhelmed. You’re the kind of person who, when the “Feed the Children” commercials come on, you just turn the television. Now you’re not cold hearted. In fact, its just the opposite. You’re so tender you can stand to watch another bloated bellied child. You know you need to do something but you don’t know what that something is. You need a strategy.
Others of us run because we have no power. We’ve tried to witness and we’ve fallen on our faces. We’ve talked with others only to have them laugh. It seems like we’re getting nowhere and we often wondered, “Hey, If God’s so powerful and if He has commissioned me to win the lost, why doesn’t he show up when I need His power?” I want to tell you, His power waits at the end of a couple of very specific changes that He wants you to make. You see there are three very specific changes that must happen before you can truly become His missionary. The first one is this: Becoming a missionary requires:
DIVISION 1: A CHANGE IN PERSPECTIVE
Now you’ll notice quite a contrast in our text between those who should have been missionaries and those who actually were. The disciples had spent time with Christ . . .lots of it. They were the ones who had the most intimate, long term contact with Christ, but they are not the ones who are concerned about reaching the world. For one thing, just like we talked about a couple of weeks ago, they were prejudiced against Samaritans and didn’t, frankly, care if they went to hell or not!
Besides that, they didn’t have their eyes on the fields but on the food. They were all about eating.
Which just makes this woman’s reaction so poignant. Vv 28-29 say:
The woman then left her waterpot, went her way into the city, and said to the men, 29 “Come, see a Man who told me all things that I ever did. Could this be the Christ?”
This woman forgets her water pot and goes on a mission trip. Someone has written that leaving your natural occupation so that you can tell someone else about Jesus is the mark of a true disciples. How ironic! The “true disciples” can’t see the harvest and aren’t witnessing to anyone, while this lady, probably not yet fully convinced that Jesus really is who He says He is, wants to tell everyone about Him! Hey, if she got it, why didn’t they?
Well, Jesus tells us their problem in v35. He says, Do you not say, “There are four months and then comes the harvest?” Now you must understand that this saying, “There are four months and then comes the harvest” was a proverb of that day. It was used to tell someone to be patient. It was like saying, “Rome was not built in a day.” So you might say to someone in that day, “Hey, I know you want to buy a new chariot, but you have to save your money. Remember, there are four months, then comes the harvest.” Jesus, however, contradicts this flawed wisdom. He tells them, “Don’t say there are four months and then comes the harvest, Behold I say to you, lift up your eyes and look at the fields. They are already white for harvest.”
And one writer says that, when Jesus told them to lift up their eyes and look that it could be that at that very moment that Samaritan woman was returning with the men of the town (dressed in white) to meet Jesus. Jesus was telling them very emphatically here that what they needed was a drastic change in perspective. He’s saying “Get your eyes off your materialism and see the world; get your eyes off your needs and see the world; get your eyes off of your toys and see the world; get your eyes off of your fears and see the world; get your eyes off your retirement plans and your 401-k’s, and your next new car, and your pursuit of your own pleasure and see the world!”
And that’s how you become a missionary. You have a change in your perspective. Can I tell you that this is the major reason that we sponsor mission trips here at Peace Church! We know that if we are to produce missionaries it will only happen as our perspective changes. And, often, in this country of great affluence, the only way for that perspective to change is for you to go to places like Juarez and Vera Cruz and allow the Lord to “lift up your eyes.”
And some may be saying, “I really don’t want to see the world. I know there are needs out there, but I’d rather be comfortable eating my Big Mac, thank you very much. Besides, the world’s just too big and there are just too many needs. What difference could I make?”
Quite honestly, if you think that, you still haven’t “lifted up your eyes.” The perspective Jesus wants you to have is not some overwhelmed sense of failure because the needs are so great. He wants you to see, not the mass of people, but that one solitary person He puts right in front of you. Hey, Jesus didn’t go to the middle of Sychar, pitch a tent, throw down some sawdust, and have a tent revival. O no! He spoke to one solitary lady at one particular well. Lifting up your eyes means seeing that neighbor or that family member or that friend or that co-worker God has right in front of you. No, you can’t reach the world by yourself, but you can reach that one, and its that one God wants you to see. And I am so sad to say, so many never see it.
Vladimir Nabokov was a Russian novelist. He traveled to the states to visit some friends in Alta, Utah. He was a collector of butterflies and moths and, while staying in Alta, wanted to go out to enlarge his collection. One evening, as the sun was setting, he made his way back to his friends’ home. He told them that, as he was in the hot pursuit of an exquisite specimen near Bear Gulch, he had heard someone groaning pathetically by a stream.
The next day they found the dead body of an aged prospector who had been hurt and, evidently, groaning the day before as Nabokov had passed by. The most interesting part of the story, though, is what happened that night when he had returned to his friends’ home, telling them what he had heard.
His friend had asked him, “Did you stop to help?”
Vladimir replied, “Well, no, I didn’t.”
“Why not?” asked his friend.
Vladimir had replied. “Because I had to get the butterfly.”
O, Christian, Jesus calls us from the complacency of chasing the butterflies of our lives and tells us to lift up our eyes and see the harvest.
Maybe you’re saying, “How do I do that, Rusty? How can I change my perspective?” Well, let me give you three suggestions
First, once and for all, you must decide what success is in your life. You must define real success. Hey, is it making money? Is it producing something that gives you personal satisfaction? Is it simply pursuing all the pleasure you can possibly stuff into your life. What is success for you?
I can tell you what it was for Jesus: It was people. The disciples were just interested in eating, and moving on as quickly as they possibly could so that they could get out of that unclean country. Jesus loved the people! Seeing the Father glorified by having them come to trust Him was His definition of success. And until you adopt Jesus’ definition, you’ll never see the harvest and you’ll never really become the missionary God wants you to be.
But, not only must you define real success, you must trust God’s work. I think the disciples missed this opportunity because they didn’t believe that God could possibly be at work at a little well in Samaria. Isn’t that like us? We don’t see the harvest in front of us because we don’t believe the God working through us. We don’t believe the God who is working in others around us. Look. Mark it down! God is at work in the hearts of men. As Bill Hybels says, you never lock eyes with anyone that God doesn’t love enough to send His Son to die for. I guarantee you, you’ll never start a spiritual conversation with anyone with whom God has not, at some time in their lives, spoken to. Trust His work!
If you want to have your perspective changed, you can define real success, trust God’s work, and then, my friend, the rubber will meet the road! You see the last suggestion you must take is this: You must expect God’s interruptions. I think that the disciples were all about their routine. They were in this unclean country and they had one goal in mind: Getting out of there. They were focused. They ate so they could get the energy to leave. But in the middle of their routine comes this annoying little interruption: This conversation with this harlot from Samaria. They wanted no part of it!
May I tell you that, if God is ever going to use you, He will interrupt you to do it. I am constantly re-discovering this! One of the few things I’ve learned over the last few years of ministry is this: God doesn’t mind interrupting my plans. I can get mad, and I can even rebel, but He doesn’t care. Not one bit! He interrupts me constantly because His agenda is more important than mine and what I often find is that, when He interrupts me, He’s got a woman at the well or a man in need that He wants me to minister to. So here’s what I’m learning to do. I’m learning to plan my day gingerly, realizing that, at any moment, God’s divine appointments may need to interrupt my schedule. By the way, I haven’t arrived yet. It still frustrates me sometimes, but I have seen enough of His work to know He’s up to something much bigger than I can plan.
You become a missionary when you have a change in your perspective, but becoming a missionary also involves:
DIV 2: A CHANGE IN PHILOSOPHY
In verse 36, Jesus quotes another proverb to drive another point home to his disciples. He says:
And he who reaps receives wages, and gathers fruit for eternal life, that both he who sows and he who reaps may rejoice together. 37 For in this the saying is true: ‘One sows and another reaps.’ 38 I sent you to reap that for which you have not labored; others have labored, and you have entered into their labors
Jesus quotes, here, what was normally a negative proverb, but makes it positive. Saying “one sows and another reaps” in the ancient world was a saying about luck. It spoke of the idea that, often, life is not fair. A man may work hard all his life, save great wealth, which he never has time to enjoy, and have his lazy nephew, who won’t hit a lick at anything, inherit all his money. You see, “one sows and another reaps.”
As one writer says, Jesus turns this parable on its head. Instead of dividing the planter and the reaper, and considering the planter to be unfortunate and the reaper, fortunate, He unites them. He says that both will participate in the harvest. And Jesus’ concentration is on the harvest here. The disciples stood in the long line of the prophets of the Old Testament who had come before. They were blessed to be able to reap the fruit of the efforts that had been made for centuries. They were reaping what they had not sown.
Which just reminds me that evangelism is about cooperation, not competition. Isn’t it interesting how we get that messed up? Our philosophy, which comes from our competitive American DNA says that for you to win I have to lose and vice-versa. Jesus is saying that, when it comes to evangelism, we need a change in philosophy. We need to understand that we are in this thing together. Evangelism is cooperative in at least two ways:
First, it is cooperative historically. You and I didn’t come up with the idea of salvation. Obviously that began in the mind of God before the world was formed. It was His plan, not ours to train a rag-tag bunch of fishermen to fish for men. Throughout church history others have carried the torch of outreach until now, in this 21st century the flame has passed to us. We stand in a long line of those who have come before us, but even though many of them sacrificed to spread the gospel in ways we can’t even imagine, none of them have the unimpeded opportunity that we now have. In our world, the message of Jesus can be beamed around the world in a matter of seconds through the internet or cable TV. But we stand in the shadow of giants who have come before us.
William Carey has been called the Father of Modern missions but that was not because of the church of his day, but in spite of it. In his book, The Challenge of life, Oswald J. Smith wrote that even though they had no vested interest in the church, the East India company opposed it. In fact they presented a resolution to Parliament in response to Carey’s determination to go to India which read:
The sending out of missionaries into one Eastern possession is the maddest, most extravagant, most costly, most indefensible project which has ever been suggested by a moonstruck fanatic.’”
In 1796, the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland passed a resolution which read: ‘To spread the knowledge of the gospel amongst barbarians and heathens seems to be highly preposterous.’ One speaker in the House of Commons said that he would rather see a band of devils let loose in India than a band of missionaries.
But Carey didn’t waver. He stood the tead and became the father of modern missions. He translated the bible into several Indian dialects and blazed the trail for Adoniram Judson and others who later came. And that’s not all. You see he blazed a trail for you and me as well? How can I say that? Because of what Jesus said. He said that he who sows and he who reaps “rejoice together.” Evangelism is a cooperative thing. It is cooperative historically, but . . .
It is also cooperative synergistically. Simply stated, we are to blend our efforts with the efforts of other believers to achieve together more than we could never achieve separately. Listen, my friend, we have a huge job.
The world has around 6.7 billion people of which 40% have never heard the gospel nor have any hope to. That’s over 2 billion people. Only about 2.1 billion claim to be even nominal Christians of any kind. That means that we have 4.6 billion people who’ve either never heard the gospel or need to hear it again. This is not the time to become territorial or fight over those who already believe. This is the time to reach out.
May I just share my heart with you for a minute? I grieve over the fact that so much of our growth over the last year has not been because someone has really given their life to Jesus Christ. Don’t get me wrong. If God has led you here from another church I praise God for you and I want you to stay here and work to reach this world with us. But at some point, Peace Church, somebody needs to get saved! Hey, and its not just us. Thom Rainer and George Barna have repeatedly found that the church is not even keeping up with the population growth when it comes to conversions. Guess what, if things continue as they are, in the next census the number of people claiming to be believers will have shrunk as an overall percentage of the population. We don’t have time to argue with one another about nuances of doctrinal insignificancies! We must give our energy to reaching the world! And if we are to reach that world, some things must change. We must have a change in our perspective and a change in our philosophy. But last of all, reaching the world requires:
DIVISION 3: A CHANGE IN POWER.
Now this change is simply a result of the others we have talked about. You see when my priority changes and my perspective changes and my philosophy changes, there comes a change in power. You see it in what happens after this lady goes out witnessing. V 39 says:
And many of the Samaritans of that city believed in Him because of the word of the woman who testified, “He told me all that I ever did.” 40 So when the Samaritans had come to Him, they urged Him to stay with them; and He stayed there two days. 41 And many more believed because of His own word.
42 Then they said to the woman, “Now we believe, not because of what you said, for we ourselves have heard Him and we know that this is indeed the Christ, the Savior of the world.”
Something happes as this lady goes and as Jesus steps into the picture. The power of conviction falls and the Holy Spirit enlightens the minds of these Samaritans to see the truth about Jesus. Notice that they are not simply going along with a fad. They make a point to say, “Hey, we believe and we believe not because you told us but because we have come to know that this is Jesus Christ the Son of God and the Savior of the world.
Charles Colson tells of a frustrated prison psychiatrist who exclaimed, “I can cure a person’s madness, but not his badness.” The only way to make bad people good is to expose them to the gospel. Even Charles Darwin, the man who contributed so much to evolutionistic thinking, admitted this. He wrote to a minister: “Your services have done more for our village in a few months than all our efforts for many years. We have never been able to reclaim a single drunkard, but through your services I do not know that there is a drunkard left in the village!”
Later Darwin visited the island of Tierra del Fuego at the southern tip of South America. What he found among the people was horrifying—savagery and bestiality almost beyond description. But when he returned after a missionary had worked among the people, he was amazed at the change in them. He acknowledged that the gospel does transform lives. If fact, he was so moved by what he saw that he contributed money to the mission until his death.
Paul said it like this: “ For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek.”
Listen to me believer. You hold in your hand awesome power. It is the power of the gospel. It is the power to rescue people from their miserable existence in this world and their eternal punishment in the world to come. But the same God who gave you eternal life has called you to share that life with someone else; and the same God that called you to share that life with someone else will hold you responsible for what you do with the responsibility to which He called you. When you get right down to it, not becoming a missionary is not now, nor has it ever truly been an option. Acts 1:8 makes it plain: you shall be witnesses.
But the truth is, it isn’t a have to as much as it is a get to. It isn’t an obligation, it is a great joy.
Someone wrote of William Carey: "Taking his life as a whole, it is not too much to say that he was the greatest and most versatile Christian missionary sent out in modern times.”
It was in Moulton that Carey heard the missionary call. In his own words he cried, "My attention to missions was first awakened after I was at Moulton, by reading the Last Voyage of Captain Cook." To many, Cook's Journal was a thrilling story of adventure, but to Carey it was a revelation of human need! He then began to read every book that had any bearing on the subject. (This, along with his language study — for at twenty-one years of age Carey had mastered Latin, Greek, Hebrew and Italian, and was turning to Dutch and French. One well called his shoemaker's cottage "Carey's College," for as he cobbled shoes along with his preaching he never sat at his bench without some kind of a book before him.)
The more he read and studied, the more convinced he was "the peoples of the world need Christ." He read, he made notes, he made a great leather globe of the world and, one day, in the quietness of his cobbler's shop — not in some enthusiastic missionary conference — Carey heard the call: "If it be the duty of all men to believe the Gospel ... then it be the duty of those who are entrusted with the Gospel to endeavor to make it known among all nations." And Carey sobbed out, "Here am I; send me!"
To surrender was one thing — to get to the field was quite another problem. There were no missionary societies and there was no real missionary interest. When Carey propounded this subject for discussion at a ministers' meeting, "Whether the command given to the apostles to teach all nations was not obligatory on all succeeding ministers to the end of the world, seeing that the accompanying promise was of equal extent," Dr. Ryland shouted, "Young man, sit down: when God pleases to covert the heathen, He will do it without your aid or mine." Andrew Fuller added his feelings as resembling the unbelieving captain of Israel, who said, "If the Lord should make windows in heaven, might such a thing be!"
But he prayed. And he pled. And he plodded. And he persisted. And he preached — especially his powerful message, "EXPECT GREAT THINGS FROM GOD. ATTEMPT GREAT THINGS FOR GOD." The result of that message preached at Nottingham, May 30, 1792 — and all the other missionary ministries of Carey — produced the particular Baptist Missionary Society, formed that Fall at Kettering on October 2, 1792.
It was in 1793 that Carey went to India. At first his wife was reluctant to go — so Carey set off to go nevertheless, but after two returns from the docks to persuade her again, Dorothy and his children accompanied him. They arrived with a Dr. Thomas at the mouth of the Hooghly in India in November, 1793. There were years of discouragement. In fact, no Indian was converted for seven years. There was debt, disease, deterioration of his wife's mind, death, but by the grace of God — and by the power of the Word — Carey continued and conquered for Christ!
When he died at 73 (1834), he had seen the Scriptures translated and printed into forty languages, he had been a college professor, and had founded a college at Serampore. He had seen India open its doors to missionaries, he had seen the edict passed prohibiting sati (burning widows on the funeral pyres of their dead husbands), and he had seen converts for Christ.
On his deathbed Carey called out to a missionary friend, "Dr. Duff! You have been speaking about Dr. Carey; when I am gone, say nothing about Dr. Carey — speak about Dr. Carey's God."