By Dave Bollenbacher, Minister of Missions,
Cottonwood Baptist Church, Dublin Texas
Jesus said: “A moneylender had two debtors: one owed five hundred denari, and the other fifty. When they were unable to repay, he graciously forgave them both. So which of them will love him more? Simon answered and said, ‘I suppose the one whom he forgave more.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘You have answered correctly.’” Luke 7:41-43
The Luke 7 passage is not typically associated with “missional” activity. In fact, I can’t recall ever seeing the connection made. And yet, as I’ve given thought the last few weeks to the idea of the Church and her role in sending to the nations, I believe Jesus’ message of love and grace has much to do with a church’s desire to serve distant neighbors.
The church I belong to could easily be deemed irrelevant by most standards. We’re a 100 year old rural church, located in a two stop-light town on the outskirts of nowhere. Our facility is inadequate and inauspicious, with a pasture for a parking lot. One other thing, I go to church with a lot of five-hundred-dollar sinners, and most of us know it. I think it’s these last six words that have a lot to do with our passion for God’s glory among the nations. Because we have been forgiven much we are compelled to love much, and it is this love that propels us to cross streets, borders, oceans and cultures to share the Good News of Christ.
In his classic work Key to the Missionary Problem, Andrew Murray writes: “Get this burning thought of ‘personal love for the Savior who redeemed me’ into the hearts of all Christians, and you have the most powerful incentive for missionary effort…. If we could fill the hearts of the people with a personal love for this Savior who died for them, the indifference of Christendom would disappear, and the kingdom of Christ would appear.” In other words, an impassioned love for the King would result in an impassioned love for the Kingdom!
Last year I don’t believe our church met our general budget of approximately $500,000, but we gave nearly $225,000 for our mission efforts. We sent over 100 people deep into Mexico’s Copper Canyon, when “our neighbors” were dying from crop failure. This year we will send and support two families and one single to serve long-term among distant neighbors, while three other families from our Body have been sent abroad with the assistance of other sending agencies. Over the last 7 years we have sent between two and three hundred of our people to serve long-term and short-term among an unreached people in Asia. This year we will begin a long-term commitment serving a Muslim people in Africa.
Sharing this information is not to boast of our mission efforts, or to impress you with a “mission program”. We are well aware that God does not need us! I share it as evidence of people, who have been forgiven much, and who are loving much. An acute awareness of the grace that has been extended to us motivates us to share the same message of grace with those who’ve yet to hear. When a love for God is the motivation, the work of missions is transformed from an obligatory task of a chosen few to a cherished invitation extended to all who have been forgiven.
Too often we hear “missions” being spoken of as a task to be completed by “missionaries” who have received a special job offer from God (i.e. “calling”). Perhaps when missions and missionaries become more about loving God than undertaking a program or accepting a job, we will see the Church respond with greater fervor for the nations.
In part, we identify with the twelve chosen by Jesus because of their fallibilities. They were screw-ups like us, and after three years of doing life in close proximity to Jesus, they were exposed! But they were sent by Jesus, and their love for Him compelled them to go. They would change the world. A five-hundred-dollar sinner who lived naked and chained in a cemetery, experiences the grace and forgiveness of God. And what does Jesus do? He sends him! A woman, who has gone through 5 marriages and is currently shacking up with someone, must go and tell because she has encountered a caring, loving and accepting God. These people could not be restrained from saying a resounding “YES” to the invitation to go. Because they had been forgiven much, they loved much, and because they loved much, they were sent.
This list of “chief sinners” could be expanded, but you get the point. The activity of missions is not for the elite and holy few. Inevitably, it will also not be for those who have failed to be undone by a life changing encounter with God. When a love for God has transformed a church, it is no longer about missions or becoming “missional”; rather the focus becomes a longing for God’s glory among all people.
John Piper had it right when he said in his book Let the Nations Be Glad, that missions exists because worship does not, and thus the worship of God becomes the fuel for missions. The shift in thinking here is a significant one. If love for God is the catalyst for sending and going, no longer is the motivation for missions some foreign land or distant people who are without hope, but our great God who is without worship. Our greatest joy becomes the worship of God, and thus we must share.
John alludes to this in his first letter. “What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the Word of Life- and the life was manifested, and we have seen and testify and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was manifested to us- what we have seen and heard we proclaim to you also, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ. These things we write, so that our joy may be made complete.” (Italics mine) 1 John 1:1-4
John, and others like him, had experienced the grace, forgiveness, and intimacy of a loving God. After seeing Jesus, hearing Jesus, and touching Jesus, they couldn’t help but go and tell of Jesus. It didn’t matter where or at what cost; sharing Good News became not a task they were obligated to perform, but a response birthed out of thanksgiving and complete joy. Their witness for God was preceded by a witnessing of God. Having come to know Jesus, they were propelled to go and share Jesus. These early Christians were radically effective in their witness of Christ, both at home in Jerusalem and to the ends of the earth, not because of a desire to be “missional” for God, but because of their desire to be “relational” with God.
A church that does not have a desire for knowing Jesus will care little about sending others to share Jesus. The Church in the West is largely marginalized when it comes to sending, because church has become more about self than Savior. Walk into any “Christian” bookstore and most titles will be about how one can have better kids, a better marriage, better finances, and a better you! Devotionals that spur us on to “5 minutes a day with God” leave us feeling pretty good about our spiritual pursuits, and a whole section of Christian fiction introduces us to characters with a spiritual vibrancy reserved only for the world of make-believe. Unfortunately many churches provide a weekly sampling of similar offerings.
Perhaps we shrink from intimacy with God because of the risk that is involved. Five-hundred-dollar sinners who are unable to repay have to be willing to be exposed, and the Body of Christ has to be willing to provide a community where it is safe for such exposure to take place. Such exposure can be messy, but receiving and extending grace fosters community, and community in turn gives birth to intimacy – with God and with others. We are created for community! Christian community is critical to sending and being sent. The endeavor of missions void of community is dangerous. I have seen firsthand the destruction it leaves behind. Walking honestly before God and others won’t happen cross-culturally if it is not happening in Christian community.
We are set free by knowing that we are forgiven by a loving God and by realizing the extravagance and cost of that forgiveness! It ignites a love for God that unleashes us to know Him and make Him known. It creates within our hearts a joy and thanksgiving that propels us to send and be sent, so that others might taste of the same goodness. The King and His Kingdom become paramount. As a community of faith, we become zealous for the worship of God, not just with our own lives, but the lives of others who have yet to worship truly. Forgiveness sets us free to live honestly before others in communities that spur us on to love and to do good deeds.
The heart of a church that sends must first be undone by the forgiveness of a loving God. May we avail ourselves anew to an intimate encounter with Him. Forgiveness sets us free to have a loving relationship with our Creator. May the Body of Christ become consumed with the desire to be relational with God instead of missional for God, and let us see where the resulting intimacy sends us. The Psalmist wrote: “Cease striving and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” (Psalm 46:10) Interesting how a heart for knowing God results in Him being made known among the nations.