Theme: Overcoming the obstacles that can stop you from changing your world for Jesus, because there is a world that needs our prayer, our gifts, our love and our going.
Avoid Fear – Live in Peace!
Gather in Christian Community
Never forget that God is the God of Second – and more – Chances
Live in Faith – not in doubt
Preach the Gospel (and if necessary, use words)!
I remember singing songs like that 30 years ago. My worship leader in those days was a guy named Graham Kendrick who wrote “Shine Jesus Shine” and all of that, “Knowing you” etc. And I remember what happened in the country where I was, which was Britain, where 2% of the population went to church or went to evangelical churches, 2% were evangelical Christians. I remember seeing the years when it got up to 7% were evangelical Christians. I remember when you couldn’t as a Christian go and say anything publicly because you were laughed at and I remember what it was like to gradually see the BBC television, the secular radio and television companies open up and I remember what it was like to see government begin to open up and I know a little bit of the heart of what it means when you start to realize that Jesus is there to be loved and he wants to use you. I remember what it was like when we started to get together in our thousands to worship together and what it felt like, but then there was a word that began to intrude itself and it caused us a problem, because the word was “kingdom.” And we knew we were supposed to be part of this Kingdom of God, but where on earth was this kingdom. And then finally one day I got it and I got it the only way you will ever do get it, which is by going into scripture and when you read the disciples’ prayer, it’s not the Lord’s prayer, because Jesus could never pray forgive us our sins, because he never sinned. It was the prayer he taught disciples and Jesus taught his disciples to pray this prayer and he explained what the kingdom was. The Kingdom of God is the place where the will of God is done as perfectly on earth as it is done in heaven, as we have just been singing. The Kingdom of God is the place where the will of God is done as perfectly on earth as it is in heaven. And Jesus didn’t die to get us to sing happy songs. He died to introduce his kingdom and he died to make us servants of his kingdom and he died that we might inaugurate and initiate that kingdom. So for the next 20 minutes we are just going to look at what it means to initiate the kingdom of God here on earth.
I need to say a couple of other things very quickly. I need to say firstly that there won’t be any American Christians in heaven. As an Englishman, I find that refreshing. I need to say that there won’t be any English Christians either, which is really sad because it is going to lower the cultural tone enormously. There won’t be any African Christians or Haitians Christians, they will just be a family.
I need to say secondly that you will be doing two things. You will be alternating between praising Jesus for what he has done for you and apologizing to the person standing next to you that you stood by and watched them die. You see, what we have lost, is the recognition that we are not part of church here, we are part of church worldwide. We are part of another kingdom, because it’s got a different king. And that in Christ there is no Jew or Greek, no bond or free, there is no black or white, there is no rich or poor; and 80% of the resources for his church on earth, the Lord Jesus for reasons known only to himself has chosen to give to his church in North America and we’ve got 80% of the resources for the church in the world and we’ve got 20% of the need and he didn’t give it to us that we might have bigger and better facilities, he gave it to us because he trusted us to go and change this world for Jesus and initiate his kingdom. It is as simple as that. And all I want to do is look at five things that could stop us initiating his kingdom. Five things that would stop us from changing our world for Jesus. Five things that will make us sit in happy comfort in front of our television screens while our world goes to hell. Five things that will make us concentrate on whether we should or should not go to war with Iraq. Five things that will stop us realizing that there is a whole world out there that needs Jesus and he has left us to get this world back for him. I have twenty minutes. We are going to move really fast.
The passage that I want to read is in John’s gospel in Chapter 20, Verse 24:
“Now Thomas called Didymus one of the twelve was not with the disciples when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him we have seen the Lord, that he said to them, unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were and put my hand into his side, I won’t believe it. A week later his disciples were in the house again and Thomas was with them, though the doors were locked Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” And then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here. See my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in to my side. Stop doubting and believe.” Thomas said to him, “My Lord and My God”, then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me you have believed. Blessed are those who haven’t seen and yet have believed.”
If you have got a pen and paper handy, it’s going to help the memory banks. Five things that can stop you from changing your world for Jesus. And the first one is, being scared. Being scared. I think Grace is fantastic. If you knew what she was going in to, you would be scared stupid. And she may be, which is why she needs some prayer and a lot of love and a lot of commitment that she goes on behalf of us all, but it really is very simple. If you want to stop the people of God doing something, just get them to see the size of the challenge and the task. Get them to be scared. There were ten of them left, Judas has hanged himself, Thomas has gone walkabout somewhere and ten disciples are left. They are frightened and huddled together for survival. Before he died, Jesus made a will and the Last Will and Testament of King Jesus, he left his body to Joseph of Arimathea, he left his spirit to his father, he left his clothes to the soldiers who were killing him. He left his mother to John and for his disciples, those who walked with him and lived with him, he left them his peace. “Peace” he said in John 14, “Peace I give to you. Not as the world gives, do I give to you.” And he appointed no executor to execute his will. He walked in through a wall and said, “I promised you could have it, here it is. Peace be unto you.” It’s really simple. You are not supposed to live in fear looking at the challenge. You are not supposed to live in fear looking at the obstacles, you are supposed to live in faith and look at the potential and the possibility and see that God is there with you. If you go home at lunchtime and you read your Bible from Genesis 1 to Revelation 22, you will find that 366 times God says, “Don’t be anxious, don’t be frightened, don’t be fearful, don’t worry.” It is one for every day of the year. And an extra one if it is a leap year. And I reckon I need one every day. What’s going to stop us taking this world for Jesus, it’s being scared. And so the Prince of Peace comes and says, “My peace is your birthright. You are not supposed to be frightened.”
Victoria was doing AIDS work in Africa. Victoria is a Mazunga. She’s white, but she speaks Swahili. So she was going to a Swahili speaking church. She left church one lunch time and she was trying to walk her way home and a couple of guys jumped her and they kicked her head in. They got ready to rape her. Now in that particular area, rape is a death sentence, because of the rate of HIV infection and the rapist would almost certainly be HIV positive and so Victoria screamed her head off and the village love her so they came out and they rescued her. It really was close. And I walked the fields of Gettysburg with Victoria that Christmas talking to her about what she had been through and I said to her, because she was only 24, I said to her, “What are you going to do?” She said, “I am going back. Somebody’s got to.” Victoria wasn’t just one of my staff, she was also my oldest child. And I don’t say it because there is any family connection. She comes from a generation that has realized something, that those of us who are older have got to get a hold of and that is that Jesus never died to give us a comfortable life. The idea that Jesus died in order that I might have safety, security and a happy life is absolutely ridiculous. Jesus died in order that this world might encounter him. He died in order that he might transform our lives and make us in to those who would selflessly give our lives for other people and it really is very simple. “I am going back. Someone’s got to.” You don’t live in fear, you live in peace and in trust and in tranquility and you go do it. Are you still there? That was number one. We’ve got four to go.
Number two, the epistle to the Hebrews says, “Don’t neglect meeting together as is the habit of some.” I don’t know if you get bored by church. I don’t know if you get fed up by going to church. Well actually this is not the church and this isn’t church either. You see, this is the church building and this is the church meeting. Church is us. And we are not supposed to neglect being together, because if you miss out on church, you can miss out on Jesus. What happens is, there is ten of them huddled together for survival and Thomas isn’t there and because Thomas isn’t there, he missed the Lord. He missed Jesus. And if you miss out on church, you can miss out on Jesus. One of the most appalling dangers of our post-modern society is that we are taught that my faith is what I have and Christianity says that our faith is what we have, that we are a church together God’s people. And if you miss out on church and the reality of church, you can miss Jesus.
If I was to ask you what your favorite church was around the world, I wonder what you would say. My second favorite church around the world is Albania. I love it. There were five Christians left in Albania in 1992 when the revolution came. Today there are 12,000, under the leadership of my good buddy, Gemi Begu (?) and Gemi, he’s getting old now, but he is all right. He is going to make it for another couple of years, but he is pushing it a bit. He’s 28. He has led the Albanian churches for six years. 12,000 Christians in 160 churches. And it is wonderful to see it, but my favorite church in the world is Iran. I don’t know a church like the Iranian church. I have a problem being President of World Relief. We work from 43,000 US churches, yourselves included, and we are 43,000 churches working through churches around the world. Now the reason we do it that way, you know you give me money, I don’t give it to the poor, I give it to the church and they give it to the poor. Why that way? Because you stop the corruption that way and you cut the corruption, you maximize the efficiency and you always get the gospel going with the social action. So we go church to church, which is great providing there is church on the other end. Afghanistan doesn’t have church. The only public Christian was killed on the orders of their so-called liberal king in the 1970’s. So there is no public church in Afghanistan. So we have to work through the nearest church. That gives you a choice of Pakistan or Iran. So we do both. But Iran is great. Because we went to the Iranians authorities and we said, “Will you let the Iranian churches take supplies which we will provide through Europe in to the Afghani Moslems and the Afghani camps?” And they said, “Yes.” And so the expedition was led by the church treasurer and I was allowed to come along too. It was great fun because they don’t know how to behave in public, these Iranian Christians. You see, they won’t be quiet about Jesus. So you got the gun fire rippling on the hillside and you got the camp commandant almost having a standoff with the church treasurer because he won’t stop talking about Jesus, as he says “Why do we want to keep these people alive, if they’re going to have an eternity without Jesus? Silly idea. We will give them life both ways.” It all is so straight forward for these Iranians.
Now there is the old Armenian churches and the old Assyrian churches in Iran and then there is the new churches of Moslem believers. A couple of thousand of them. Almost all converted through visions and dreams. There the bishop says to the secret police, “What can you do to us? Put us in jail, wonderful. More people to tell of Jesus.” Oh he means it. “Close the church, you can’t do that. Only Jesus closes church. We will open in a home. Kill us, ahhh. Kill us. Blood of martyrs, seed of church.” Oh yeah, I did the memorial service in London when his brother was martyred eight years ago in Iran. Oh, the bishop knows what he is talking about. It is ever so easy. If you miss out on church, you can miss out on Jesus and when I have seen churches like Iran, I know what it means to forget that we are just part of a huge family. They have 25 of these secret churches. I wish you could come and lead worship for us actually. I would be great fun. It’s going to be on a Friday though. The big one in Tehran, they have two services. The same worship style. And 350 in each and it is so secret that there is a huge cross outside and it’s elevated and illuminated. Little old man 86 years of age taps his way past the church. The Christians are outside. He says, “Is this church?” They said, “Oh, the mosque is down there.” He said, “No, I pray God for village and I see great white light cover a village and in the middle of great white light, I see cross. So I come Jesus. Now I go church. Is this church?” “Oh yeah” they said, “This is church. How far did you come 86 years old?” He said, “Oh 850 kilometers.” 500 miles to go to church. Together, to gather with your brother and sisters. On the Iranian roads and on Iranians buses and he does it every month, just so he can break bread with his family.
Two Iranian Christians sent by the bishop to go and get rid of some Bibles, to go and sell some Bibles in their village. Five o’clock in the morning they leave because the secret police are never out on the streets at that time, no one is. I know, I have been there. And as they are driving out of Tehran they realize they don’t know what road to take to go to this village. The car is full of Bibles, which is very dangerous and at that moment the steering wheel jams and they’re forced into making a right turn and as they go around the corner there is a guy standing on the corner. So they think great, we will stop the car, un-jam the steering wheel, find out what the right road is to this village. That’s what they did. They got out and said to the guy, “What’s the road to this village?” He said, “You have Bible?” They said, “No, we want the road to this village.” He said, “No, you have Bible.” They said, “But we don’t know you.” He said, “No, but you have Bible. I pray God for Bible for village. God says you come here Tehran, five in morning, stand on this corner. I send Bible. Do you have Bible?” “Yes” they said. He said, “Great. I have life savings.” $60.00. They got a hundred dollars worth of Bibles. They gave him the lot. They said, “We will come and preach.” He said, “No, Bible preach. One day you come preach Jesus.” He put the box of Bibles on his shoulder and walked off in to the morning. They got back in the car and drove it back to the bishop. You might say, “How did they do that?” They steering wheel wasn’t jammed anymore, it’s never jammed since. You may not believe it, but it happens for this lot with such monotonous regularity, I have run out of doubt. It’s church, folks. You don’t be afraid. You have got the peace of God. Don’t miss the church and how vast it is, because you might miss Jesus and what he is doing in his world.
The third thing is this. Next week Thomas is there and Jesus walks through the wall again. He will always come back and give you a second chance. The third obstacle is your fear of failure, your belief that having failed before, you have lost your chance. You know how well you are living for the Lord and you know what you did. You know that opportunity that you had for service and you know how you missed it. You know that way you thought he was taking you in your life and then you went another way. You didn’t escape folks, he just comes and gives you another chance. David failed and God still used it. Elijah failed, God still used him. Abraham failed and God still used him. Peter failed, God still used him. You can make a wonderful argument from scripture. You’ve got to be a failure for God to use you. Because he comes and gives you another chance and another chance and another chance and he is wonderful at that and if you come in repentance in faith, he will give you another chance and so the third thing is don’t think you missed out with the first chance, take the second one.
Last year there was a terrible famine in Malawi. This year, this is the worst famine going on in Southern Africa that has happened in your lifetime and most of you don’t even know. Do you? Because we are so full of war with Iraq, 12.8 million Africans are going to die this winter unless the church saves their lives and the only way the church will save their lives, is if you help them to, because it will take $50.00 to save the life of a child this winter. And the famine will kill 12.8 million, 6 million in Zimbabwe alone and I hopped across the border into Zimbabwe three weeks ago on a little Cessna plane just to talk with the church leaders. I went to the mission hospital. The last doctor was sitting on a bed nursing the kids because he has run out of food to give them and they are turning away children by the hundreds and he has run out of medicines. All he can do is give them a cuddle. He’s got nothing left to do while they die in his arms and that’s a mission hospital and what is church doing here? Nothing. Because we do not know. And time and again, he gives us another chance. This time react.
I went to a village in Malawi a couple of months ago and a Muslim grandmother was sitting there. She got her five grandchildren, her three children are dead from AIDS. One in five of the population in Malawi are HIV positive in the adults. So the kids are dead, but the grandchildren are alive. And as she sat there I said, “how have you survived?” She said, “Oh, it’s the little Baptist church. They give us whatever they have.” I said, “Wonderful.” She said, “This Baptist church has kept the children alive.” I said, “That’s fabulous.” The last thing she said to me was, “Would you pray for me?” And I am always fascinated when a Muslim says will you pray for me, because I want to know what she wants me to pray for. I said, “What do you want me to pray for?” She said, “Will you pray that I might have eternal life and that the children might live as well. That I might live long enough for them to live?” He always gives you a second chance folks. We’ve got another chance in this world. Another chance to show the love and compassion, another chance to pray, another chance to give and another chance to do and we need to seize it.
And fourthly. The fourth problem that we face is this and it was a problem that Thomas had to face up to. You see, for Thomas he got his second chance. Now he’d got to realize what it meant, that he is known as doubting Thomas, but he was supposed to live in faith instead. Don’t be remembered for your doubts, be remembered for your faith. Who was the first person in the Bible to call Jesus “God?” It was Thomas. Peter got near it, he got “you’re the Son of the Living God,” but Thomas said, “God” and then he put a pronoun in, “My God, My Lord.” And Thomas we wrote him off for his doubt, but he never did put his hand in the side of Jesus or his fingers in the nail prints. He believed. And when Jesus walked in on the wall a second time and gave Thomas the second chance, Thomas, who was way behind the disciples, suddenly got way in front of them all. He stopped living in his fear and started to live in faith. It really is very simple. We are not supposed to live in doubt, we are supposed to live in faith. We are supposed to live in confidence. We’re supposed to live in strength.
I was in Zimbabwe as I said and I met Sarah. Sarah was sitting outside her little mud hut. Now one in three of the adults in that part of Zimbabwe are HIV positive, so her husband is dead. She’s got five children and they’re are still alive. Sarah is a Christian. I said, “What do you want me to say to your brothers and sisters in America for you? What message have you got?” She said, “Oh, would you tell them I am hungry.” And the she thought about it and she said, “No, don’t tell them that. Because they’ve got a lot to worry about themselves. My brothers and sisters in America have got so many things in America they need and so much that really should concern them. Tell them not to worry about me, because the Lord will provide.” I worry because I believe we are the hands and feet of Jesus, but I love the faith. The faith that says “I belong to him, so I don’t live in doubt. I don’t live in fear. I live in faith.” Don’t be known for your doubts, be known for your faith.
And the last thing I want to say and it’s very simple. It happened on Aramous Heights a few days later when Jesus gave his last message to Thomas and to the others. He said, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.” I am going to Cambodia tomorrow. In Cambodia I will meet a girl named Yoka. Yoka is a nurse and she can’t preach very well, can she Dennis? And she’s not a great musician and she hasn’t got a lovely voice and she’s not tremendously well educated. She is 33 and the last four years she has planted 300 churches in Cambodia. She has changed the nation for Jesus. Simply because that’s the call. Go out and get the world back. It really is simple.
What gets in the way of going and getting the world? Being afraid. Being frightened. Frightened that we are not good enough. Frightened that we couldn’t do it. Failing to look at him and looking at ourselves instead.
What’s the second problem? We lose touch with the fact that we are church and if you miss out on church, if you lose sight of church, you will lose sight of Jesus.
What’s the third problem? Thinking that we got to live with our failures. We don’t have to live with our failures. We can live in faith that he is always going to give us another chance and another chance and another chance.
What’s the fourth problem? Well we can be known for our doubt, but we should be known for our faith. It’s about time there were a few more lunatics for Jesus. I could keep you here all afternoon with stories of the Parabaloni, those who went out and gave their lives for Jesus and changed the world. That was the third century. They are still doing it today.
And the last thing is, don’t miss out on the fact that we have a whole world to get for Jesus. The world doesn’t stop with Towson or with Baltimore or with Maryland, or with the states. There is a world that needs our prayer, our gifts, our love and our going, as Grace is going to find.
It’s ever so simple. And Jesus gives the last beatitude. Blessed are those who have never seen, but have believed. Just think what your life could do.
I want to close with this. My oldest lad is a boy named Chris and Chris went to dig wells in Southern Sudan at one point. And when he went he left a message with his prayer partners in Britain. The last line said this, “As my dad says so often, together by the grace of God, let’s go change a little bit of this world for Jesus.”
When you leave there is a table with Grace’s details on it and she would love you to take some details and pray for her. When you leave, my dear friend Dennis Whelan and some of the rest of us will be around the World Relief table and there are these leaflets. Just rip them up. Put your name and address on this and I will tell you when you brother and sister are dying in Mongolia or Indonesia or Cambodia or Rwanda and how we can pray for them and help them. It’s really very easy. Our job is to sing, have fun and relax and then go change this world for Jesus. God Bless you.