There are at least two senses in which it is true that the lost seem so far away. Most of us who grew up going to church heard about missionaries in far away worlds. Occasionally there would be letters posted on the bulletin board with fuzzy pictures of baptisms in muddy rivers. I grew up hearing about Godson Anyanwu in Nigeria and Nehemiah Gootham in India. For decades Central in Pascagoula has supported K. Joseph in India, who is now elderly and his son is training ministers. These are just a few among thousands of individuals that many of us only hear about through a letter. They are real people who are doing work in extraordinary circumstances … in their home country. They are winning the lost in a life setting that offers very little hope for a change in circumstances. a World Missions are important – missionaries should feel confident in their work with our consistent support. It’s true that the lost world seems very far away.
But I’m not sure that has a lot to do with Jesus’ commands we call the “Great Commission”.
He told them, “This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.” Luke 24:46-49
He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. Mark 16:15-16
Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Matthew 28:16-20
There is another sense in which the lost seem so far away, but not in distance. They seem … out of reach. While I hope we never outgrow international or domestic missions, I think we need a reminder that we can never overlook the mission in our back yard. Step outside and take a look around.
When we see our city with spiritual eyes we see those left behind after sin has ravaged their lives. We see those who belong nowhere – who have no family – who walk around in a sense of crowded loneliness. We see children all around who are growing up without Christ, without the church, without God’s truth being taught to guide them through the treacherous waters of our culture. Even though they are within shouting distance, they still seem so far away.
Perhaps that is because we have never really viewed our own community as a mission field. What would a missionary to our city do? If you were from another country and came to this city to be a missionary for Christ, what would you do? When we answer that question honestly, then we will know what we should do.
Missionaries walk into an unfamiliar world. No matter how much you study and prepare, walking onto the terrain is a new experience. It never was acceptable for churches to remain cloistered away from the lost – having given up on people that even God still believes in. What universe next door is awaiting your arrival with the greatest news ever told? Go into all the world…
Missionaries look for open hearts nearby. It’s easy to find people who do not care about Jesus. It takes more effort, greater insight, wiser observation to discover those who have open hearts and who are ready to receive Christ into their lives. Go and make disciples…
Missionaries are available to God’s leading. We are mistaken if we think that we are in this alone. There are people who are asking God to show them the way … to help them find their way to Him. You are His answer to that prayer. Preach the good news to all creation…
Missionaries are able, through preparation, to share the gospel. Do not get hung up on this point … so many think that if they do not have a library of doctrinal information memorized that God cannot use them. But on the other hand, do not neglect study and devotion. You cannot share what you do not have.
Missionaries view all people as needing the gospel. If we follow God’s lead and open ourselves to those who indicate an interest, we may reach people who are very unlike us. That is not a problem to God. Our backyard mission takes a look around this city and notes that there is much diversity here. Does our church reflect that diversity? Make disciples of all nations
Missionaries are consumed with the message. It would be easy on the mission field to adapt the message so that it might be received more readily. Without supervision on the mission field a missionary might import some of his favorite traditions from home into the field. This is a gigantic mistake we have all made at times: trying to recreate our kind of Christian. The Bible only knows one kind of Christian … but today there are any number of traditions and interpretations that have splintered believers of all stripes. Yes I attend a particular kind of church … and yes we have some peculiar traditions … but those traditions are not our message. We dare not infiltrate the mind of someone who has opened his heart to us by planting our human preferences and traditions along with the gospel. Our message is how the weak can become strong, the poor can become spiritually rich, and the lost can find their way home. Worship styles, version preferences, and denominational put-downs do not represent the gospel. And they frankly shouldn’t be discussed on the mission field. “Repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations”.
It does seem that the lost are so far away. The truth is that they are very near … within reach. And it is very likely that someone you know would like to escape the talk about church and our ways … and talk about the Savior and his ways. The promise of Jesus is that He is very near. I am with you always, to the very end of the age…
The lost are not far away at all. Have you been praying and asking God to show you how to fulfill this great command in your life? He’s beginning to answer.