Réveille… (Part 2)
I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision. (Acts 26:19, ESV)
We owe so much to the Apostle Paul for being obedient and for being a true pioneer. In his letter to the believers in Rome, he shares his dream… something we ought to pay closer attention to today.
…I make it my ambition to preach the gospel, not where Christ has already been named, lest I build on someone else's foundation. (Romans 15:20, ESV)
I initially took this declaration as a reaffirmation of the Great Commission, which it is.
Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20, ESV)
From a book worthy of our time, the author shares an anecdote about being in a Somali camp helping distribute basic goods to meet desperate needs. One day, in the midst of the crowd and commotion, he dared to ask his local guide,
Do you know my friend Jesus Christ?1
After some tense moments—he didn’t know the language—of animated shouting and agitated pointing back and forth, his friend turned to him and explained:
Mahmoud thinks that he might have heard of him and that he may live in the other refugee camp down the road. So go back out the gate, turn left, go to the next camp, ask for Jesus Christ there, and you might find him.2
Remember playing MUSICAL CHAIRS? It’s a foretaste of how churches and pastors appear to interact in the United States. Enough already with the musical churches game and ladder-climbing. So many people have little or no access to the Gospel. If we bother to prepare for ministry, then it seems logical the first order of business should be to find a place to do ministry where the Gospel will be new news.
After some time in ministry, I also began to see Romans 15:20 as the basis for a proper work ethic. There are plenty of secondary, auxiliary ministries trying to sell themselves to existing churches. Some have dared to view a prospering congregation as simply a target rich environment, a potential source of income… an opportunity to syphon people off to enhance their own enterprises. Where are the frontline laborers attempting to start new churches without borrowing or stealing sheep from other flocks?
An athlete is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules. (2 Timothy 2:5, ESV)
If the Gospel is everything it claims to be, we do not need to tarnish it with cheap tactics in order to introduce it to more people. Starting from scratch, along with being the best way to spread out, may also be the most ethical way to go about our business. Integrity means everything when representing our Savior. We should not underestimate the power of the Gospel… even in brand new, unplowed fields.
Jesus pleads with us to pray for more laborers. That’s because foundational principles like boots-on-the-ground and long-term-commitment cannot be sidestepped. There are not nearly enough laborers on the front lines—out in the fields—to deal with the harvest.
So… in Romans 15:20, we have…
A reaffirmation of the Great Commission… a foundation for a proper work ethic …and a challenge to test our faith.
The apostle’s challenge is very much in the spirit of God’s challenge regarding tithes and offerings in the Old Testament book of Malachi.
Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. And thereby put me to the test, says the LORD of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need. (Malachi 3:10, ESV)
Paul is saying… go ahead… be a pioneer… put all your eggs in one basket… be out on a limb for the Gospel…! Do it in a manner that reflects integrity and confidence in the God of the Gospel. Grow roots somewhere new, sow the Word, be patient and watch what happens!
Writing these words revives memories of things you can’t put a price tag on. I’m thinking now of a man at my kitchen table over a period of weeks and months describing his life as a millionaire, hitting rock bottom, and then beginning to find Christ. To be able to have an intelligent conversation about how to get from a dead, works-based religion to simple faith in Christ… to still see his smile the day he came to tell me he had given his heart to Jesus… it doesn’t get any better that that!
Dear Apostle Paul, Thank you. You were right. There is nothing quite as satisfying as starting from scratch, waiting on the Lord to bless as he chooses, and being allowed to hang around long enough to see some of the results.
Linda and I came to the same conclusion. We wanted to be pioneers. What made us different? I think part of it was because both of us had run the gauntlet of seeking and had run out of dead end streets to try. We came to Christ within weeks of each other, before our first child was a year old. It was new to us… upending and revolutionary… finally something to latch on to… something worth living for!
Like other people who make the kind of commitment we did, we took God’s word literally… and personally. He commands us to go… so Greg and Linda should go too. We didn’t have a clue about what was next, where we would go or what we would do. But we were ready to be pioneers.
Being a pioneer is almost like daring God to not bless you. It’s like looking up prayerfully and saying, “But you promised!”
Being a pioneer is like being the first one to walk out on a shaky rope bridge over a deep canyon to see if it’s safe. Scary stuff… but let me tell you how satisfying it is to have crossed over safely. A new believer… a disciple… the new disciple’s family… a group… and the crowning moment—leadership emerging from within.
The need for pioneers in God’s kingdom is acute. If you’re not one, I hope you’ll pray about being one.
What do you say?