Missions Exists Because Worship Doesn't: A Bethlehem Legacy, Inherited and Bequeathed
This is my 30th and (depending on how you count them) last message on missions that I will give as your pastor. Except for the fact that all my messages are on missions — for those who have ears to hear. But you know what I mean. Every year (but one) beginning November 13, 1983, I have preached during our fall focus on Global missions. And this is my last one.
What a privilege to be a part of the Bethlehem legacy of world missions! To lead Bethlehem is to lead a global mission agency. Not just a church. But a church that has become a worldwide missionary sending organization. To lead this global mission was an inheritance that I received and did not create. And it is a bequest that I bequeath with overflowing joy to Jason Meyer.
A Rich Legacy of Missions
In 1890 (122 years ago) Bethlehem (a 29-year-old Swedish Baptist Church) sent Mini and Ola Hanson from our own membership to an unreached people group in Burma called the Kachin. They were known as vengeful, cruel, and treacherous. The King of Burma declared to Hanson when he got there, "So you are to teach the Kachins! Do you see my dogs over there? I tell you, it will be easier to convert and teach these dogs. You are wasting your life."
The Kachin were completely illiterate with no written language. Over the next 30 years Hanson collected 25,000 words and published a Kachin-English dictionary. In 1911 Hanson finished translating the New Testament; defects of my work. I have tried to master Kachin, and make a translation and on August 11, 1926 he completed the Old Testament.
In a letter on August 14 of that year Hanson wrote: “It is with heartfelt gratitude that I lay this work at the feet of my Master. I'm conscious of the intelligible to all. Pray with us, that our divine Master may bless this work to the salvation of the whole Kachin race." Today  virtually all Kachin can read and write their own language, as well as Burmese, the national language. And there are over half a million Kachin Christians. (Based on Bethlehem Star, February 28, 1995 by Tom Steller)
So the legacy of missions at Bethlehem goes back over a hundred years. And it has been one of the highest privileges of my life, without any exaggeration, to be a part of sustaining and growing this legacy. I have often thought: O Lord, if we falter as a church, if we stumble, if we drop the ropes, so many missionaries will fall. Maintaining the strength of this church is not just about the saints here or the impact that we have on the Twin Cities. It’s about the hundreds of Global Partners who have gone down in the mines on ropes held by this church.
If You Will Hold the Rope!
That has been a powerful image for us over the years. It comes form William Carey who blazed the trail to India in 1792 and saw his mission as a miner penetrating into a deep mine, which had never been explored, with no one to guide. He said to Andrew Fuller and John Ryland and his other pastor friends: “I will go down, if you will hold the rope.” And John Ryland reports: “He took an oath from each of us, at the mouth of the pit, to this effect—that ‘while we lived, we should never let go of the rope.’” (Peter Morden, Offering Christ to the World [Waynesboro, Georgia: Paternoster, 2003], 167)
And now as I bequeath the leadership of the church — the mission — to Jason, there are 109 families and single people (192 adults, 170 children, 362 souls!) that have put the ropes of their support in our hands. That is amazing and frightening and wonderful. What a privilege! You really should feel that as part of this church. We are all goers or senders, or disobedient. Those who drop into mines. Those who hold the ropes. And those who think it’s not their business. Rejoice that you are part of a church that doesn’t just support, but sends from our own number, over a hundred families and singles to take the gospel to the peoples of the world.
A Compelling Sense?
And this second Sunday of Global Outreach Focus each year has been for decades a flashpoint in the missionary fires that burn all year long at Bethlehem. Every year in this service we close by inviting a group of you to come to the front at the end of the service to bear open witness to the wonderful work of God in your sense of calling to long-term, cross-cultural missions, and to seek clarity and confirmation and courage for that calling as we pray for you. So I give you a heads up now, so that you can be dealing with the Lord over the next half hour.
And the question is: Has God been working in you — for twenty years, or twenty days or twenty minutes — to give you a compelling sense that, unless he shows you otherwise, you are moving, with his help, toward the nations longer term (we love short term missions, but that’s not what this is about) — with the hope that you will go for at least two years and possibly more, crossing a culture to spread the best news in all the world — that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, came into the world to save sinners by dying in our place and rising again.
So what I am going to do, as part of our series on the 30-year theological trade marks of Bethlehem is give you ten biblical convictions that drive our commitment to global outreach — to world missions — at Bethlehem. And as I give you these I pray that that they will burn in your soul — for some of you as a God-given compulsion to go. And for others as a God-given compulsion to send. And when I am done, I will ask those with a compelling sense of God’s cross-cultural leading to come and let me pray for you. This one last time.
1. God is passionately committed to the fame of his name and that he be worshipped by all the peoples of the world, and this is not egomania, it is love.
We saw this two weeks ago (“God Is Most Glorified in Us When We Are Most Satisfied in Him,” October 13, 2012). Missions, Global Outreach, is joining God his passion to love the nations by offering himself to them for overflowing joy of their praise.
- “Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous works among all the peoples!” (Psalm 96:3).
- “Make known his deeds among the peoples, proclaim that his name is exalted.” (Isaiah 12:4).
- God sends Jesus on his mission “in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy” (Romans 15:9).
- He does his mighty works in history “that [his] name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” (Romans 9:17).
2. Therefore worship is the goal and the fuel of missions: Missions exists because worship doesn’t.
Missions is our way of saying: the joy of knowing Christ is not a private or tribal or national or ethnic privilege. It is for all. And that’s why we go. Because we have tasted the joy of worshiping Jesus, and we want all the families of the earth included.
- “All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the LORD, and all the families of the nations shall worship before you.” (Psalm 22:27).
Seeking the worship of the nations is fueled by the joy of our own worship. You can’t commend what you don’t cherish. You can’t proclaim what you don’t prize. Worship is the fuel and the goal of missions.
3. People must be told about Jesus, because there is no salvation and no worship where the gospel of the crucified and risen Son of God is not heard and believed.
- “And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12).
- “Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” (Romans 10:17).
- “Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.” (1 John 5:12).
- “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations.” (Matthew 28:19).
There will be no salvation and no true worship among people who have not heard the gospel. Missions is essential for salvation.
4. God is committed to gathering worshipers from all the peoples of the world, not just all the countries of the world.
This is what “all nations” means in the great commission. Nations like Ojibwe, and Fulani and Kachin, not like the United States and Japan and Argentina. This is what Jesus bought with blood:
“Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.” (Revelation 5:9–10)
The gospel has already reached all the countries. But, according to the Joshua Project (www.joshuaproject.net) there are over 7,000 unreached peoples. That is why our mission statement says: “We exist to spread a passion for the supremacy of God in all things for the joy of all peoples [plural!] through Jesus Christ.”
5. Therefore there is a critical need for Paul-Type missionaries whose calling and passion is to take the gospel to peoples where there is no access to the gospel at all.
I am distinguishing Paul-type missionaries from Timothy-type missionaries. Timothy left his home and served cross culturally in city (Ephesus) different from his own (Lystra). But Paul said in Romans 15:20 “I make it my ambition to preach the gospel, not where Christ has already been named.” There is still much to do where Christ has been named. But O how we need to pray for an army of hundreds of thousands with Paul’s passion to reach the utterly unreached and unengaged peoples of the world.
6. We must send the global partners in a manner worthy of God.
This is why we have a missions staff and a missions budget and a missions nurture program and why we have Barnabas support teams for our missionaries. “You will do well to send them on their journey in a manner worthy of God” (3 John 1:6). This is why senders are crucial along with goers. We don’t believe everyone is a frontier missionary. Frontier missionaries cross cultures and plant the church where it’s not. But if we are not a goer, there is a great calling: Sender. And John says, Do it in a manner worthy of God.
7. It is fitting for us to have a wartime mindset in the use of our resources as long as peoples are without the gospel, and we have resources to send it.
In peace time the Queen Mary was a luxury liner but in the second world war she became a troop carrier. Instead of bunks three high they were stacked seven high. Instead of 18-piece place settings, there were rations with fork and knife. You allocate your resources differently if its wartime. And it is wartime. The battles are more constant than any in our world wars, and the losses are eternal.
The Macedonians in 2 Corinthians 8:2 are a model for us in the face of great need: “In a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part.” O that we would deepen in our grasp of the urgency of the hour and remember that ultimately we don’t own anything. God owns us and all we have. And he cares about how it goes in the war effort to reach the nations with the gospel Jesus died to send.
8. Prayer is a war-time walkie-talkie, not a domestic intercom.
“I chose you and appointed you,” Jesus said, “that you should go and bear fruit . . . so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you” (John 15:16). I give you a mission so that your prayers will be fruitful. Prayer is for mission. It is mainly for those on the front lines of the war effort to call in to headquarters to send help.
One of the reasons our prayer malfunction is that we try to treat it like a domestic intercom for calling the butler for another pillow in the den rather than treating it like a wartime walkie-talkie for calling down the power of the Holy Spirit in the battle for souls.
9. Suffering is not only the price for being in missions, it is the God’s plan for getting the job done.
- “If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household” (Matthew 10:25).
- “They will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake” (Matthew 24:9).
- “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves,” (Matthew 10:16).
This is not just the price many must pay. This is God’s strategy for victory. His Son won the victory this way. So will we. “They have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death” (Revelation 12:11). They conquered (not were conquered) by testimony and death).
10. The global cause of Christ cannot fail. And nothing you do in this cause is in vain.
Jesus said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go, make disciples” (Matthew 28:18). Not some authority. All. He cannot be defeated. “I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18). “This gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come” (Matthew 24:14). He has ransomed a people for all the nations. And he will have them. “I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd” (John 10:16).
There are more, but those are ten of our main biblical convictions that drive our commitment to global outreach at Bethlehem. And for some of you, as you have been listening, they have become again, a confirmation that God is leading into long-term, cross-cultural missions. I’m not asking that you be absolutely sure. I’m asking that as far as you can discern, this is God’s leading for you, and you will follow it, unless he makes it plain otherwise. You might be 12-years old. Or you might be 55, or 75. If you have this compelling sense that God is leading you into longer-term, cross-cultural missions, I invite you to come and stand at the front to testify to this wonderful work of God in your life. Amen