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Our Last Great HopeAWAKENING THE GREAT COMMISSION
By RONNIE FLOYD
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 2011 Ronnie Floyd
All right reserved.
Chapter OneFace the Truth About yourself
Imagine a group of important leaders calling you into a fancy boardroom. They say, "Okay, we've selected you to be in charge of changing the world forever. Your job is to create a delivery system that will reach every single person in the world. Oh, and it needs to be done yesterday."
Actually, something like that happened to me.
I was humbled, to put it mildly, on the day I received the challenge. I was asked to serve as chairman of the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force of the Southern Baptist Convention. Sure, it sounds like just another church committee. Bureaucratic titles make even the miraculous sound mundane. But there's nothing dull at all about this endeavor—not when you really think about it, not when you truly understand what's at stake on Planet Earth. And I did understand—or at least I thought I did, in the beginning. I knew all about the Great Commission. When Jesus ascended to heaven, He left us with a mandate to penetrate every corner of our world with His message, His offer of salvation from the sin that destroys us. His charge went like this:
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 everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age. (Matthew 28:19–20)
The Great Commission had already been my passion; it's the lifeblood of my denomination and of evangelical Christianity. So you can imagine the fire that was lit in my soul when I was asked to chair such a group. The task force involved twenty-two leaders and thinkers with a mandate to study for one year and then bring forward fresh insights about what might be the most effective way we could finally do what we haven't done in two thousand years—penetrate the unreached world with the gospel and make disciples of all the nations. I knew this was the most wonderful, significant opportunity I would ever undertake in my earthly life.
Upon further review, however, I began to feel overwhelmed. I only thought I knew what it meant to fulfill the Great Commission. It's a stated goal that Christian groups throw around almost casually. We voice it all the time, because it's what we all want to do. Now, however, I realized the magnitude of the quest. It was like hearing about the Grand Canyon all your life, maybe seeing a few pictures of it, and then actually standing there at the edge of it for the first time, with the wind whipping at your collar and a great, fiery sunset on the western horizon. There's just no way to be prepared for the awe and wonder. The reality outstrips the simple concept. The Great Commission really is a simple concept:
Tell every person in the world about Jesus Christ and make disciples of all nations.
That's a mission statement so basic a young child can grasp it. But the reality of the Great Commission—well, that's another story, and I had not come to terms with it.
Our task force read widely. We studied. We investigated. As a result, we came to grips with a vast, sprawling, complex, rapidly changing global village. We considered the languages, the cultures, the new opportunities and ancient obstacles of communicating our message to seven billion people, each soul as unique as his or her fingerprints, each one infinitely precious to God. In this "Grand Canyon moment," we were overwhelmed by reality, and we knew we had to be honest with ourselves. We weren't playing games.
Defining the task accurately would be mind-bending. And that was just for starters. We would also have to convince sixteen million Southern Baptists in over forty-five thousand churches that our definition was the right one, and that this endeavor should become the great work of their lives. We would be responsible for making everyone see the reality of this work, while remaining excited about forging ahead with it ourselves. Now do you begin to see why the idea of awakening the Great Commission is staggering?
Jesus said to us in Acts 1:8, in the other great statement of the Commission, "You will be My witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth."
He was talking about a ripple effect, ever-expanding circles of massive salvation, each one a new and different demographic reality. Jesus intends us to answer, what is the reality of Jerusalem? of Judea? of Samaria? of your neighborhood, your gender, your generation, your socioeconomic group? Those who came directly after Him—the generation of the apostle Paul—made those ripples happen in spectacular fashion. The first Christians moved across languages and cultures, defying hostility, languages, demonic opposition, and tremendous odds, until our faith won out over the greatest political empire in history, the Roman Empire. The gospel was shared; disciples were made in many nations of that period.
So we know it can be done, and we have at our disposal all kinds of technology and tools that Paul and his fellow missionaries didn't have. But consider the obstacles, even for those who embrace the challenge of defining reality. That technology is a two-edged sword. We live in a world of misinformation. Media reporters and political leaders throw out new falsehoods every day so that we fail to understand our world and even ourselves. A barrage of TV commercials push us toward the belief that personal happiness is tied up in how many toys we own or in how many varieties of physical pleasure we pursue. The opinion makers—their reality has changed too. Their legions have swelled exponentially in our generation through technology, particularly the Internet. Our eyes and ears and minds are constantly filled with the white noise of this blog or that talk show—and so few of those are bound up in the truth we know to be in God's eternal Word. So many opinions, so much advice, yet there is one God and one truth. In the incessant babble of our times, I'm driven to God, to hear the only voice that matters.
I hope your head isn't already spinning. When we discuss awakening the giant, mobilizing the Great Commission for this world at this time, we must start somewhere, and that means, of course, at the most basic level: ourselves. We can't define the reality outside us until we handle what is within. I must therefore begin with myself—and with my God.
A high-Def Mirror
The first battle to be fought is the one for my heart and soul. I know my limitations. I look inside, see how fallen and helpless I am, and know my only hope is to trust Him. There is a wonderful passage in the New Testament that cuts to the heart of this problem of the inconsistencies in my spiritual life:
But be doers of the word and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. Because if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man looking at his own face in a mirror; for he looks at himself, goes away, and right away forgets what kind of man he was. (James 1:22–24)
In this word picture, the man looks into a clear mirror. Mirrors don't lie; they define reality in full color. Let's imagine this man sees a dab of toothpaste stuck to his chin. It makes good sense for him to wipe off the smudge, right? Someone who is not a doer of the Word, James tells us, is like a man just leaving the paste there. He is ignoring the truth that has just been presented to him.
God's Word is a mirror that shows us who we are in high definition. It defines reality with harsh precision. As I read the Bible, I find that this book has me nailed. What all those political leaders, Madison Avenue wizards, and Internet chatterers—even my closest friends—don't understand about me, the Scriptures do. I open the covers, gaze into the reflection, and see myself looking back. The reality of myself. This is why we are disciplined to study our Bibles every morning to prepare for the day spiritually, just as we look into the bathroom mirror to prepare for the day physically.
Reading the Word, I'm humbled. I'm encouraged. I'm strengthened because I know exactly where I stand. But when I finish my morning devotional time, put aside the Bible, and get busy with my day, I'm in danger of losing the reality I've been shown. I need a disciplined mind and will; I must cling to the truth as I begin to walk through this world, knowing that thousands of competing messages—sometimes subtle, always powerful, generally lies—will assault my thinking. If Scripture is a high-definition mirror, then these are fun-house mirrors. They seek to amuse us by telling us agreeable lies about ourselves.
I must admit that I am the source of my share of these competing messages. I am tempted to rationalize my sin, to play games rather than be honest, or to take the easy way out during those defining moments of life, when it's absolutely critical that I know how to be honest with myself. Whether it's some disembodied voice in technology or some inner voice generated by my foolish pride or spiritual laziness, I must ignore the world's lies and follow the Word's truth. Narrow is that path, Jesus tells us, the path of self-honesty; wide is the avenue that leads to destruction (Matthew 7:13–14).
I also need to be aware of my concern for image and perception. Just like you, I want to be loved, accepted, and admired; it's a matter of human nature. But we can become slaves to the approval of others. We want to please other people at all times. For the best and most valid of reasons, we want to please a spouse, a supervisor at work, a leader at church. We want our friends to think highly of us. There's nothing wrong with any of that—until approval becomes our defining reality. Then our quest for approval becomes a lifelong pursuit of fool's gold.
Life is to be lived for an audience of One. Here's an encouraging thought: if I can focus utterly and completely on pleasing God, suddenly life becomes very simple. I've defined my path, and His Word will light that path for every step. I no longer need to listen to all the competing voices out there. I may not please all the people all the time, but I will do my best to live as God wants me to, and that will be my reality. Ultimately we must all make that choice, as Paul did: "For am I now trying to win the favor of people, or God? Or am I striving to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a slave of Christ" (Galatians 1:10).
It's time for me to get real—to be honest with myself and before God. Do I want the truth? Can I handle the truth?
Our Last Great Hope
Why all this talk about reality and honesty? I raise these questions for one reason. Take a good look around you, at the direction of our world. All things considered, would you say it's a better or a worse place than a few years ago? Set the parameters of your evaluation any way you choose: our nation, the international scene, popular culture, our economy, our ecology, our politics, our families. Most of us would answer that we are a generation in decline. Many Christians believe that Christ may return soon. Even nonbelievers sense that calamity awaits us in some form.
If we, with all our technology, all our intelligence, and all our human philosophies, had the solution to this decline, don't you think we would have produced it by now, in these thousands of years of human civilization? Modernism hasn't created utopia. Science has created as many problems as it has solved. I must conclude that our last great hope lies beyond our human capabilities. The course of civilization has borne out what the Bible has said all along: we are fallen and deceived creatures; whatever we try—by our means—will be doomed to corruption because we are innately corrupted by our own sin.
There is one last great hope—for our world, our nation, our children, and our churches. That hope only becomes visible when we become honest, when we define reality rightly. That hope lies in the person and power of Jesus Christ and in no one else, in no other path or possibility. We call it good news, even though there is nothing new about it, because every new moment, every new problem, every new sin, has already been conquered and forgiven through His suffering and death on our behalf and His resurrection from the dead on that Easter morning two thousand years ago. There is good news for whatever is ailing in your life; good news for whatever challenges confront you tomorrow and next week; good news for every single conceivable human problem we face today. But it is good news that must be delivered and then accepted.
Years after the Second World War was over, there were Japanese soldiers still holed up on the Pacific Islands. No one had gotten them the news of surrender. They could have gone home to be with their families, but the good news had not been delivered. As a matter of fact, when the last aging soldier was finally brought the news, he refused to accept it. He convinced himself that it was only an enemy ploy to make him put down his weapons. Only when his commanding officer was personally brought to the island did the old soldier acknowledge that there was peace and that he no longer had to live in caves or fear the enemy.
Our God came Himself to deliver our good news, to tell us that the war between heaven and humanity was over and that both sides won. He put on flesh and walked among us and then, before He left, instructed us to keep on bringing that news. The war is over, but the fighting continues in places where the amazing news hasn't penetrated. Isn't that a tragedy? That's why our task is urgent—Satan is racking up victories in a conflict he has already lost. The head of the serpent has been cut off, and the body is writhing in its death pangs.
The gospel of Jesus Christ is the last great hope for this world. According to the promise of Jesus, we have been given His power, His presence, and His authority—all we need for success. And the Great Commission is our marching order, the operation on which everything depends. It's time for us to awaken to the urgency, the reality, the simplicity of this one task, an assignment beside which all others pale into insignificant trivia.
Think of the ways we allot our time and energy—our causes, our quests, our dreams, our hobbies, and our pursuits. How much eternal importance is in each one? Are we, like the legendary emperor Nero, fiddling while Rome burns? Jesus told us to seek His kingdom and His righteousness first, and all the other things will follow in their proper place (Matthew 6:33). First? I wonder how many of us are even seeking His kingdom second or third or tenth. How many people do we encounter every day who are dying of thirst for the living water only Christ can provide, but we're too busy to tell them?
Someday I will stand before my Father to account for my actions in this life. Oh, how I long to be able to say, "My Lord and my God, I know You gave me Your greatest gift, so I gave all that I could of my time and resources to do what would please You. In my generation, we fulfilled the Great Commission! We finally enabled every living soul on our planet to hear the message You longed to give them, and we made disciples of every nation."
And it is my deepest prayer that I can hear Him say, "Well done, good and faithful servant" (Matthew 25:21, 23 ESV).
A Great Awakening
During these last months, I've felt something change within me, something powerful stirring my soul. I've developed a deep hunger to be about my Father's business of pursuing this mission to our whole world, of carrying out the Great Commission. It's not as if I haven't always been devoted to the task. I've always seen it as the focal point of my personal ministry and all Christian ministry. That passion has been there for me. But lately, that passion has matured. It has taken hold of me from the inside, made me eager, and distracted me from little things that used to seem so important. It's as if all the chaos and clamor of my life have suddenly fallen into place and become one cohesive picture: the image of the Great Commission relentlessly pursued to fruition. I still care about leading my family, leading my church, serving my local community, and all the rest. But these are now like rivulets that lead into the great, raging river that is my charge to take the gospel to the world and see massive, global revival as a result.
Excerpted from Our Last Great Hope by RONNIE FLOYD Copyright © 2011 by Ronnie Floyd. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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