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Missions 2001


Missions 2001

"Doing our part"

Acts 9-11

Introduction:

1. The fanatics of the al-Qaeda network have a guidebook for terrorism. It is the 11-volume Arabic language Encyclopedia of Jihad. The 6000 pages of print are prefaced by lavish praise for Osama bin Laden. It is also available in a CD-ROM version. This huge encyclopedia details everything from traditional car bombings to chemical and biological warfare and high tech cyber terrorism. According to TIME magazine, the objective of the instructions is to "traumatize civilian populations in order to put governments under unprecedented, unsustainable pressure capable of bringing them down."

2. The leaders of al-Qaeda distinguish between two types of terrorists:
· "Classic" terrorists are described as psychologically and intellectually weak and are assigned car bombings, hijackings and kidnappings.
· "God’s Brigade" terrorists include those with a stronger profile. They are specially trained in Afghanistan, and are assigned to suicide attacks or bioterrorism.

3. For those committed to the cause of Jihad there is something for everyone to do. Each does his part.

4. As Christians our approach is very different. We are a people of love not hate. Our praise goes to Jesus Christ not to Osama bin Laden. Our book is the Bible, not the Encyclopedia of Jihad. But there is one thing we do share in common—we too believe that each of us must do our part.

5. Jesus’ final instructions to us before ascending back to heaven:
"You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth." (Acts 1:8).

6. What do witnesses do? We do our part wherever we can.
·
On the island of Madagascar young Christian women were given a choice between sacrificing their virginity and sacrificing their lives. In surprising numbers they were martyred by being thrown off high cliffs onto the rocks and the sea surf below.
· In John Grisham’s novel, The Testament, a multi-billionaire leaves all his money to a single woman missionary named Rachel Lane. She lives alone in a distant and primitive part of Brazil’s Pantanal region. She immediately and spontaneously rejects the largest single inheritance in US history in order to continue her ministry.
· Two weeks ago in Brisbane, Australia, I sat at the breakfast table with a student pastor and his wife. He told me the story of one of his parishioners who was riding his bicycle when a car rapidly drove out of a driveway and hit him. Then the driver backed up and drove over the bike before getting out to attack the young man. Although injured, he ran as far and as fast as he could to escape his attacker.

It turned out that the attacker was waiting and the assault was intentional—but a case of mistaken identity (he thought he was running into his neighbor with whom he had a conflict). The young man on the bike asked his pastor to go with him to his assailant’s house the next week to tell him that he forgave him and wasn’t going to press charges.
· What did the Madagascar virgins, the missionary to Brazil and the man in Brisbane have in common? They were all Christians doing their part—all witnesses for Jesus Christ.
· You may argue that they made wrong choices. Those young women should have valued life more than anything else—what good could they do when dead? The missionary should have taken her billions—she could have underwritten 10,000 missionaries. The young Australian man should have pressed charges to stop the assailant from assaulting again. Perhaps—but, we weren’t there. These were not and are not our choices to make. But we do have our own choices and the question is whether we will choose to do our part for Jesus Christ in our places in our generation.

7. Listen again to Jesus’ farewell words:
"You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth." (Acts 1:8).

8. Jesus came from heaven for them, died for them, rose from the dead for them and gave to them the power of God through the Holy Spirit. He asked them to do one thing—tell others. Most didn’t do it. They just went on with life in Jerusalem, pretty much as life had always been. Then came a day of great calamity for the Christians. One of their most promising young leaders, Stephen, was murdered by an angry mob. On the day of his death persecution broke out against the Christians. People were forced to flee the city. In an irony of numbers, Jesus’ words to take his gospel to "Judea, Samaria and the ends of the earth" are in Acts 1:8 and the calamity of persecution which drove them to these places is reported in Acts 8:1.
There is a point here that we must not miss. It is often the calamities of life that cause us to do the things we would not otherwise have done. For the Jerusalem Christians it was a day when persecution began. For us, it may be the day that terrorism stuck America. This is not to say that something terribly bad is actually wonderfully good—it is to say that something terribly bad can lead us to do that which is wonderfully good.
I believe that much has changed since September 11, 2001. There is a spiritual openness in America that did not exist on September 10th. There is a fresh new concern for the rest of the world. There is a growing awareness of the differences between Christianity and Islam. There is a great new opportunity for us to do our part in reaching our generation for Jesus Christ.

9. The New Testament book of Acts is the history of what the first Christians did. Following the calamity of persecution in Acts 8 there are three stories I invite you to hear:

I. The unlikely: from murderer to missionary Acts 9
1. Story #1 is about a key leader of the persecution against Christians—Saul.

2. Acts 9:1-2
Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples. He went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem.

3. Saul was "Christian Enemy Number One". He hated Christians. He persecuted Christians. He arrested Christians. He murdered Christians.
There is not a single hint in the New Testament that any first century believer prayed for Saul to be converted. To the Christians, Saul was the Osama bin Laden of his generation. Not in anyone’s wildest imagination would he ever convert to become a follower of Jesus.
What do you consider to be the odds that sometime next year Wooddale Church will have Osama bin Laden here to give his FaithStory in our services? It is so implausible that none of us would ever think to pray for such a thing to happen.

4. Then Saul met Jesus. It was a dramatic and traumatic event. Jesus appeared to Saul while he was traveling down the highway to the Syrian city of Damascus. Jesus talked directly to him and Saul immediately believed and converted. It was amazing!

5. Not only did Saul become a Christian but also he became a missionary. Or at least he wanted to become a missionary but most Christians didn’t believe him. Saul believed in Jesus but the Christians didn’t believe Saul. It was too farfetched. It seemed like a trick. It was more than they could accept. Fortunately there were a few who believed that God could perform this great a miracle and they welcomed Saul.

6. There is a powerful line in Acts 9:15 of this story. Jesus himself said, "This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel." Saul’s name was changed to Paul. The murderer became a missionary. He took the gospel from Asia to Europe. He wrote much of the New Testament. The capital of Minnesota is named after him.

7. What does this tell us? God transforms and uses people with a past. God overcomes criminal records and other negative "baggage." God uses some very unlikely people for his purposes.

8. God can use you! What do you think God would like to do with your life? Let’s not worry about what you have done but what you could do. Let’s not focus on what you have been but what you could be. Maybe you have thought of yourself as an unlikely candidate to make a difference for Jesus Christ because your have a criminal record, because you’re too old, because you have too many debts, because you have a weak education, because you have a medical history, because . . . please stop. Simply ask God what he wants to do with you. What is your part for Jesus Christ?

II. The unwilling: from caution to courage Acts 10

1. Story #2 comes from the other side of the persecution—Peter.

2. Peter belonged to an underground political group who called themselves "Zealots." Today we would call them terrorists. Zealots were fanatics. Zealots were profoundly religious Jews—they were fundamentalists. Zealots were fiercely anti-Gentile. They were especially opposed to Romans in general and Roman soldiers in particular. Every Zealot carried a dagger and swore to kill every Roman at every opportunity. They promised never to help a dying Roman soldier or to assist a Gentile woman in childbirth. The passion of their lives was to hate and destroy every non-Jew in the Holy Land. Because they could not muster an army to fight the Romans in a traditional battle they resorted to terrorist acts that are well recorded in the history of the era.

3. God told Peter (the Zealot) to go to a Roman army officer named Cornelius. To say that Peter was cautious is an understatement. God had to tell him three times before he got the message. When he reluctantly obeyed, he went to the home of Cornelius and asked what he wanted. Peter didn’t want to go. He didn’t like what Romans looked like, the way they ate, their lifestyle, their language, politics or anything else. It was a very difficult thing for him to enter a Roman home and speak to a Roman officer. But he did it because Jesus sent him.

4. God did an amazing miracle. Cornelius and everyone in his house became Christians. They were powerfully converted and baptized and Peter was amazed. Suddenly he had to choose between hating them as Roman enemies and loving them as fellow Christians. He made a courageous decision—he decided to love them (even though they looked the same as before, ate food he considered unclean and did not fit his model of what a Christian was supposed to be like).

5. When Peter went home to the Jerusalem church he was severely criticized for his association with the Romans. Peter courageously spoke in defense of the Roman believers. He became their advocate. He explained that God loved all people. He changed his views.

6. It is a hard choice to love those against whom we have personal prejudice.
I have wondered during the past two months what will be the attitude of American Christians toward Muslims in the wake of September 11th. I have wondered if we will be caught up in prejudice and bigotry and hatred. And, I have specifically wondered if churches will begin to cut back on sending and supporting missionaries to reach Muslims for Jesus Christ. I hope not. I hope we will be biblical. I hope we will be like Peter. I hope we will move from caution and prejudice to courage and proclamation. I hope we will do our part to courageously love Muslims and others in the name of Jesus Christ.

 

III. The undecided: from persecuted to persuasive Acts 11

1. Story #3 is not about an individual but about a church—the church in Antioch.

2. Acts 11:19-21
"Now those who had been scattered by the persecution in connection with Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus and Antioch, telling the message only to Jews. Some of them, however, men from Cyprus and Cyrene, went to Antioch and began to speak to Greeks also, telling them the good news about the Lord Jesus. The Lord’s hand was with them, and a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord."

3. This was amazing! These Christians were persecuted and scattered. They lost their homes, their jobs, their families, their security—they lost most of the things that we consider valuable and important. In the midst of their problems they told the message of Jesus. They not only told the message of Jesus where they were forced to go but they made a special effort to reach out to new areas and new people in Antioch—to Gentiles who spoke Greek (people in a different place with a different language, culture and ethnicity).

4. Here’s why I find this so amazing. In my thinking, I’ll get around to telling people about Jesus when everything else in my life is perfect. It’s not a good time to give when the economy is down and I’m worried about money. It’s not a good place to witness when I’m with people who are different. It’s too hard to evangelize when I’m not feeling well. It’s not a good time to represent Jesus when life is all messed up. Not now. Not here. Not me.

These first century Christians used the problems of their times as an opportunity to do their part for Jesus Christ. Do you know what happened as a result of what they did? "The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch." (Acts 11:26). In their toughest times they did their part and as a result came the name "Christian" which we still use today.

Conclusion:

1. Today is the 21st century not the 1st century. But the call to Christians is still the same—"you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth." It is the call for each of us to do our part.

2. Are you willing to do your part to win our world to Jesus Christ? I don’t know what your part is. Maybe you don’t know yet what your part is. But are you willing to do your part?

3. Are you willing to become a missionary? If you are choosing a career and thinking about teaching or medicine or business—will you consider full time missionary service?

4. Are you willing for your son or daughter to become a missionary? There are young adults being called by God and blocked by their parents.

5. Are you willing to give your part? It may be millions and it may be tens, but are you willing to do your part for Jesus’ sake? How much money did you have in the past year? How much of that money went specifically to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ? Do you think that is your fair share? What is your part for 2002?

6. Are you willing to pray? I have had missionaries directly say that the main reason for their success overseas is the daily prayer of people from Wooddale Church. Who are you praying for? Which country? Which people? Which missionary? Are you willing to pray your part?

7. Are you willing to do your part where you work and live? Who are those with whom you may share the gospel, or serve as a Christian, or invite to church or win to Jesus? They are waiting for you to do your part.

8. I have often wondered what it would be like if the Bible were being written about here and now and us rather than about there and then and them. I would love for our Bible to say that we did our part. Even in hard times. Even in economic recession. Even under terrorist attack. We gave. We sent. We went. We prayed. We did our part.

9. Will you do your part for Jesus?

November 3-4, 2001 Wooddale Church

© Leith Anderson 2001



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