Saturday, December 20, 2008

Close Doesn't Count...

I like horse shoes. Haven't played it in nearly a decade but I've always enjoyed it when I can play it. Maybe this spring we'll set something up in our back yard. Seems like we even have a now-banned-as-unsafe set of "lawn darts" from the 70's somewhere. I think my mom has them.

We all, in the natural sense, like to play in the margins. We like the give and take. "Kind of" hitting the target but if we don't quite do it, well, that's ok. And I think that's the appeal of lawn darts and horse shoes. It allows us to get in the vicinity of the goal and as long as we get closer than anyone else, hey, that's wonderful...we all go home feeling like we've accomplished something.

But God doesn't call us to live and play in the margins. He doesn't call us to compare ourselves to others who call themselves Christians, who compare *them*selves to even others who call themselves Christians...and on down the line. He calls us to compare ourselves to Him and His Word.

I think I'm pretty typical of many who would name the name of Christ. Foreign missions work has a certain appeal to me. Seeing the pictures of the poor in other countries. The hungry. You want to help them. You give some money or something for whatever reason. Some to merely salve their guilty conscience because they've been whining about their slow internet connection or that the chicken didn't turn out right this afternoon. Some even because they really care to get the gospel (or what they believe to be the Gospel) to those who need it.

Where I live we have lots of churches. Our town has always been known for being populated by two things -- church buildings and bars. That's changed somewhat as the factories have closed down because we seem to have more eateries per square inch than ever before.

Over the past year I've had the opportunity to visit many of the local churches long enough to get a feel for what they value. One of them I attended as long as 36 years ago while dating my first girlfriend. 

At least one of these churches takes what appears to be great pride in sending people on missions trips. Just a month or two. Maybe longer. And when the people come back they tell everything about what they did -- usually it amounts to giving out food and clothing which of course is a valid thing to do. Every great once in a while you'll hear them mention the Gospel. 

But what gets me is how people make such a spiritual thing about "going out there somewhere" to some foreign country to "do missions work". Someone comes back from one of these trips and it's made out to be some large accomplishment. And maybe sometimes it is...maybe someone actually begins to think about someone other than themselves or something other then their own needs.

But what I don't understand is the pomp and circumstance that surrounds all this "go to the foreign mission field" stuff while we won't even go to our neighbors who are lost? And why is this? The principle that the Scriptures teach is that if you are shown to be faithful with little you will be given more. Jesus said that in Luke 16.

I can't know the motive of those who do this. Maybe it's genuine concern. Maybe it's a sense of adventure. Perhaps it could also be for the sake of "spiritual appearance". Maybe a mixture of each and a few more things.

But what does this say of us? Does it not say something of "missions as a hobby"? Or maybe even "the Christian life as a hobby"?

You say "How dare you say that!" I can hear people in my town saying that! But my response is "If you are really so all fired concerned about the lost, why can't you even present the gospel to your next door neighbor? You mean you'll spend hundreds or thousands of dollars on a trip to some foreign country but you won't share it with your neighbor when it costs you nothing but a walk to the next yard?" 

American Christianity wants to be entertained. It likes to "dabble". And dabbling in missions gives the aura of genuineness. And it's safe because, after all, you have no real investment in what you are doing. Generally you go, stick your toes in the water and then come home. There are no real consequences. "Play time over!"

And I've never seen anyone dabble on a missions trip to China involving the underground church...or to Korea where you can be killed for possessing a page of the scriptures...or the Sudan where Christians pay for their faith by being nailed to crosses.

And no, I've never gone overseas. I'd like to. 

But more than that, I'd like to be more the type of Christian who serves Christ in the mission field I live in. Right Here. Where I cannot hide behind anonymity.

How can we say we believe in the great commission when we won't even talk to the lost in our own town about the thing they need most? The thing they need most has nothing to do with "felt needs" but rather being saved from the eternal wrath of a holy God Who cannot look upon sin!

But so many of us would rather salve our consciences by sending clothes overseas (and I am not putting down sending clothing and food to the needy overseas) than help our spiritually dead and naked relatives and friends understand how to be clothed in the righteousness of Jesus Christ that comes through repentance from sin and faith in Christ!

We think of the book of James where he says real faith is shown when you give what you have to someone that is in need. Clothing. Food. Basic necessities. You say "I do that!". Great! That's fine!

But the lost have a need that so many of us are ignoring...the food of the Gospel...which we have, don't we? Or the clothing of the Righteousness of Jesus Christ? Or do we not have that to share?

James would say that if we won't give what we can to those who need it, it is a sign that our faith is dead. And I'd challenge anyone reading this to show me wrong in saying that if the physical is important, how much more the spiritual? For a man can die clothed and go straight to hell and a naked man may die and wake up in heaven!

Which is more important to you? The physical? You say you know Christ? If you don't see the spiritual as much more important, I question your claim and don't even try to tell me I shouldn't.

You say "but you don't understand, you have to make them feel better before you can attract them to Christ" and I say that a person must feel *worse* before coming to Christ. As a matter of fact, you must come to deny yourself (which means a refusal to associate with what you are and have been) before you can be converted! "If anyone would be my disciple, he must deny himself, pick up his cross and follow me" (Matthew 16:24)

That's not a call to a "higher level of Christian living" ala Ryrie and others but a call to salvation. Period. 

And what doctor would you have the slightest respect for who worried about setting the broken arm of a child screaming in agony while that child bled to death from a severed jugular? I would hope you'd be horrified by such a doctor. "But I must make him feel better first!". No. The child will perish. And the doctor would be guilty of malpractice.

People, we have to quit "playing missionary". If we are really converted, we are ambassadors for Christ (2 Cor. 5:20). That means that where ever we go, we represent Christ. We never "punch out" if we really know Him. 

So you wanna go to a mission field? Great! Why not start with the one that begins at the other side of your front door? Or would James challenge the validity of your profession of faith? 

I remember one pastor saying "You're being awfully black and white. That's not how things are!" Oh Really? Let's see. The Bible is our sole authority, is it not? And does it not speak of light and dark, lost and found, condemned and saved? Just and unjust?

So, we're not in a game. We're not here to hobby around with religion. And Jesus warned about that. It's called being "lukewarm". James would say it's dead faith. 

The best translation I've heard of Hebrews 11:1 starts with "Faith is the substance..." of unseen things. In other words, faith is something you can *see* because it is something that shows itself. Just like James says, isn't it? 

You say you have faith? Great! Show you have a faith to share by sharing it!

If it's an issue of "I want to but don't know how", know that I used to be in the same position. But don't stay there. A great place to learn how to do Biblical Evangelism is Or, ask me! I'll be more than happy to help.

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