Contending for the faith | Making Disciples | Equipping the Saints for Ministry

     We would all agree that the mission of every runner is to finish the course and win the prize. The question is simple for the Christian runner: is our sole mission to win a prize? The Apostle Paul made reference to gaining the prize at the end of the race (1 Corinthians 9:23-27). Someone also once implied that it is not whether you win the race, but how you run the race that is really going to matter in the end. Christian runners are set to gain the prize as soon as they cross the finish line, but when it comes to how the race is run, it will determine the value we put on the prize in the end. I happen to know a prize gained without any real cost is not considered a significant or valued prize. I have seen what some would consider a lesser prize be considered the greatest prize because earning it required a great battle on the part of the recipients.

      We have been talking about what it means to run the Christian race. Jesus clearly gives us the insight into what it would mean for believers to run the course set before them. There must first be self-denial on our part. That self-denial has to do with denying ourselves of the right to have life on our terms. We must daily dethrone pride, and then we must apply the cross to our flesh daily in order to become crucified to the influence of the world. Once we have applied these different disciplines, then we can focus on the One we are to follow into this Christian life, Jesus Christ (Matthew 16:24-25; Galatians 6:14).

      To follow Jesus means we must follow after righteousness to ensure an upright life in Christ, exercise godliness to maintain integrity in all we do, and be led by the Spirit in what we do to ensure God’s will is done. This walk requires us to love the truth of who the Lord is and His Word in order to line up to His ways and ensure that our feet are firmly established on the right path. It is only as we decide to follow our Lord, be established and properly led, that we will diligently seek the Lord as we walk towards Him in faith. The reality is we must first learn how to walk by faith towards our Lord before we can run the Christian race (2 Timothy 2:22; Titus 2:12; 1 Timothy 4:7-8; Romans 8:11-17; 2 Thessalonians 2:10; 2 Corinthians 5:7; Hebrews 3:10; 11:6; 2 Peter 1:3-4).

      The Bible is clear that if we learn to walk in the Spirit, put on the life of Christ, and exercise real godliness, we will not give way to the works of the flesh (Romans 13:14; Galatians 5:16). There are a lot of attractions attached to the flesh and the world that can cause us to take detours from the narrow path. Some of these attractions are not bad or wrong, but if they do not line up to our life and calling in Christ, they will become a distraction that has no eternal value. It is easy to get caught up with good activities, while missing the best in the way of our high calling. If we miss the best when it comes to our high calling, it is because we failed to properly discern the direction that would lead us to the more excellent way that is established in Christ.

      I have taken many detours in my life that threw me off course. Many times these detours revealed that my heart was in the wrong place, my focus was not on the right objective, and my mind was bombarded by a cloud of confusion. It became clear to me that to effectively run and finish the race, my heart and mind had to be focused towards my ultimate prize and destination.

      It is important to talk about the course we are to run and where it will take us. We know all courses are designed, and when it comes to Christians there are no exceptions. Every Christian has his or her particular course to run. I will not run your course nor will you run mine, and the terrain we run may be different, but do not be mistaken, the mission and destination are the same for all of us.

      As runners, our courses will take us through the different harvest fields of the world (Matthew 9:37; Luke 10:2; Galatians 6:9). We are called to work in the harvest. Jesus was clear that the harvest field was white unto harvest (John 4:35).We are to run through these fields with the torch of the Gospel, in the strength of the Lord. These fields could include our homes, our churches, our society, and the foreign fields, but it is vital that we learn to be faithful wherever we have been called to.

      This brings me to the mission. The mission is that we become co-laborers with the Lord beginning in the field of our own hearts, and then we must be willing to be sent forth in the different harvest fields of the world to further His kingdom (1 Corinthians 3:9). Jeannette and I usually attend churches that are very mission minded, but we have noticed through the years that some churches have lost their fervor in another important mission area. They are becoming less and less evangelistic when it comes to their own particular mission field. There is an attitude that if people are searching for answers concerning God and their soul, they will come to church, but the command is for the church to go to the lost not the other way around. The reason is because many who are lost do not know they are lost, those who are searching do not know what they are searching for, and those who are dissatisfied with a spiritual vacuum do not know what they are looking for or where to look for it (Romans 10:14-15).

      As some of you know, Jeannette and I have been called to be missionaries. We received our call when we were attending a missionary school back in 1991 that was sending temporary missionaries to third world countries. These countries had been bound up in the darkness of communism. Fear was their prison, hopelessness their constant companion, and oppression their reality.

      When the light of the Gospel penetrated the great darkness in these countries after the fall of the Berlin wall in 1989, many of these desperate souls flocked to evangelistic meetings and discipleship training as barred and hidden church doors were opened wide. These spiritually hungry people witnessed a powerful move of God. It was as though some faucet was being turned on and many felt as if they were under some type of deluge that brought cleansing to their souls and restoration of their spirits. Some were miraculously healed, but many were changed by something that proved greater than the darkness that had enslaved them and more far reaching than the destructive Marxist ideology and humanistic religion that had robbed them of hope, killed their initiative to excel, and destroyed their dreams.

      Keep in mind, some of these communities had been without the light of God for 50 to 70 years. In some regions they did not even have a word for “God” in their language. Jeannette and I stood in awe as we witnessed a young man in Albania excitedly looking into a video recorder, begging for more people to come there to teach them about God. We were humbled as we watched people in Russia running to a stage after the invitation of salvation went forth, some being helped over iron railings and lowered to the ground so they did not have to wait for the crowded aisles to clear. We watched and we heard about a great move of God. It was not in the 18th century or the 19th century or the beginning of the 20th century, it was in the last part of the 20th century, in my generation, a little over two decades ago.

      As a team, Jeannette and I wanted to go to Russia, but God showed us He was not calling us to Russia, but to another mission field. According to figures in 1996 coming out of Teen Challenge, the mission field we were being called to was considered the third largest mission field in the world. Do you know the identity of this field? You are sitting in it: America is considered the third largest mission field in the world.

      Can you imagine God calling missionaries to America? After all, why would you need missionaries when there is the church of America, or should I say many church buildings? At the time Jeannette and I attended the missionary school, we lived in a small community of over 3,000 people that had 17 Protestant Churches. Granted, some of the churches did not hold to fundamental beliefs, but nevertheless they wore the label of being “Christian.”

      I admit I argued with God about Him calling us to America as missionaries, but then He defined it even more when He showed me that He was not calling us to the highways and byways of America, but to the church itself. If you thought my debate with Him about being called to America as missionaries had a bit of intensity in it, you should have heard my objection when I realized He was calling us to minister to the church in America.

      Granted, there is a certain amount of romanticism about going to foreign mission fields that often grabs our imagination, sentiment, and grandiose ideas, but I have been reminded occasionally that if all the believers in America simply went to foreign lands to win people to Christ, who would be left to win those in our own homes, churches and communities, and nation? And as a church if we lose our own homes, churches, and communities to Satan, what would that reveal about our own faithfulness? As long as there are lost souls wandering in darkness, desperate souls quietly crying in the dark for a solution, and seeking souls who are looking for answers in this nation and throughout the world, missionaries will always be needed to labor in the fields of the world with their great husbandman, the Lord.

      When a missionary is called to a particular place, he or she may have some consensus as to what the mission field will look like or how it will manifest itself, but I can tell you by experience no one really has a clue as to how God is going to bring forth that missionary’s particular calling. As Jeannette and I considered our years of working in the mission field of America, we have been surprised as to where God called us, what our work entailed, and the different people that crossed our bow. We have prepared material that has been used nationally and abroad, worked with South Koreans and Hispanics as well as had opportunities to talk to Russians and Romanians about the Lord. We have worked also with many in different churches through teaching, discipleship, and seminars that helped people with their relationships and to establish them in ministry. We have done pioneer work, starting from a few to preparing many to work in the different harvest fields of the world, whether it be in the home, churches, communities, or internationally.

      The main problem we have encountered in the church in America is that Christians do not see America as a mission field in need of missionaries. Granted, 50 to 75 years ago we could justify such an attitude because there were incredible evangelistic outreaches, but sadly evangelists called by God are becoming an endangered species when it comes to the church. There are different ministries that are trying to remedy this but sometimes their greatest obstacle is a lack of support or opposition from the church to reach lost souls within their own areas.

      Now some of you might say, “Well, we support our church.” If your church is spiritually feeding you, you should support it, but as Christians we must also ask ourselves, how much is the church preparing each of us to fulfill our different callings of being evangelists, missionaries, or ministers who will go out into world, including their communities and share the Gospel and the life of Jesus with others?

      I think it was Finney who stated that the churches should have a revolving door, where those who come in are trained to be sent out to work in the mission field. The real challenge for the American church is to realize that it does not matter how many church buildings you have in the community labeled Christian, the question is the same, is the work of God being done in that community. The command to each of us in regard to the Gospel is to “Go,” not find a religious niche in some church and “sit” in a state of blissful complacency. We must be about the work of the Lord which is to discern the will of the Lord, whether it involves an international outreach or to edify Christians on the home front through some type of support, training them to follow Jesus wherever He leads, and challenging them to never accept “business as usual,” in their Christian service, but to pursue that which is excellent and embraces the ultimate prize.

      This brings me to another important subject, why does it appear that much of the church in America is not on fire for the Lord, and constrained by His love for souls, with an urgency to see heirs come into the Kingdom? Has He not died for us, provided us with authority, entrusted us with a message that is the power of God unto salvation, given us a commission to preach it, and sealed us until we are able to realize our redemption in the fullest? Has He not given us a blueprint to follow (the Bible) and a compass to lead us (Holy Spirit)? Has He not left us with an indelible example and instructions to glean from?  Perhaps the answer to the question about why Christians lack the fire is simple: Christians are not on fire because the fire is missing. Today there is a great spiritual vacuum in America, and sadly it is being filled with the most vile, wicked, pagan, heretical, and idolatrous beliefs and practices. Sadly, many Millenniums are falling into this vacuum and becoming lost in a great delusion. It is one of the greatest crises facing the church in America, but how many Christians feel any urgency about it, how many are trembling at the prospects of losing nearly one whole generation to Satan and his lies, how many are lying before their altars and crying out for forgiveness for the church’s state of indifference, unbelief, and disobedience, and asking God to miraculously visit His people and this country once again in spite of the apathy of the church? How many people who sit in Christian churches even recognize there is a real problem and care enough to avail themselves to become co-laborers with the Lord to do something about it?

      Sadly, this is the pattern the church has fallen into for the last 2,000 years. People will be people and for many people who dance around the fringes of Christianity or have simply made it a weekly duty, they settle for becoming comfortable in a religious setting and with regular rituals, allowing it to become a sick substitute for a relationship with God through Jesus Christ. Rather, than insisting that people need to be born again to ensure salvation, some in the church have become politically correct as they promote a cheap grace that fails to address sin and a pseudo faith towards God that promotes the idea that God loves us and simply wants to bless us; therefore, all we need to do is give Him lip service by confessing a shallow acceptance and promises from His Word. The reason Jesus died on the cross was to provide an avenue in which man can be saved from sin, and that it is by being identified to Christ in the new birth experience that a person will not only experience salvation but an abundant life that will satisfy the soul and spirit. Because of various detours, whether it is doctrinal or “good” causes, many believers have not been prepared to accept their higher calling by becoming the living church; instead, they have allowed a lifeless building and religious affiliation to serve as their face in communities, leaving the observers skeptical and unimpressed.

      The church needs to be revived. It needs to be purged from its sin of indifference (lack of love), skepticism (unbelief), intellectual arrogance (idolatry in high places–mind), religious elitism based on church affiliation and doctrine (idolatry in secret places—heart), and lack of vision for the lost. It needs to remember why it is here and know time is short. Like the days of Noah, the door to the ark (Christ’s salvation) will be shut to those who fail to take the opportunity to enter in.

      Over twenty years ago when we were in the missionary school, the missionaries were given a very important message. It was simple: the time to take the Gospel to these countries is now for the door will once again close. Guess what? According to those working in these countries the door is beginning to close to Christian missionaries and evangelists once again. In those two decades, there are many servants who have been broken by the great mission before them as tears and cries went up to God for souls. They were spilled out for the glory of God, completely consecrated for the furtherance of the kingdom of God and offered up as living sacrifices.

      What about America? Can we honestly sit in our churches and declare, “All is well with the church?” If we can say that, my question is where are the youth that will take up the torch and run with it? I am not talking about those who go to church to seek some type of entertainment because that is all they have been weaned on all their life. I am not talking about those who have zeal without real knowledge of who God is because they swing from some sentimental limb of hype and silliness. I am not talking about those who have been presented a very small god that can be adjusted to the latest fads. I am not talking about those who have some type of religious background. What are they doing with Jesus? Where are they and when have they been trained to pick up the torch to run at a time such as this?

      Is there a closed door in America’s future? Some believe we have missed the bullet in the latest election, but does that mean we can go back to business as usual or have we been given some extra time to do the work of the Father before the night comes when none of us can work in the harvest field?

      You might be saying right now, “I would love to do the work of the Lord, but I am too old, weak, or ill-equipped.” I remember a story that took place in Russia many years ago. The KGB was trying to scout out a source that was providing typewritten Scriptures to Christians in the surrounding area. They went from house to house to discover the “culprit” to no avail. Unbeknown to them, they had visited the house that was the outlet behind the Scriptures, but the one responsible for it was completely overlooked by them. The reason why this woman was overlooked is because she was a paraplegic who sat in a wheelchair and had only the use of one hand, but it was with that one hand and one very important index finger that she would peck out Scriptures day after day to edify other believers.

      We never know what God will use when it comes to the harvest field, but He is only as limited as we make Him. If we avail ourselves without any conditions and expectations and trust Him to prepare us and use us as He sees fit, we will be amazed at the outcome. Whether He simply uses us in intercessory prayer or uses one small part of our body or a certain talent or allows us to be completely poured out, using what is left in the most surprising way, it ultimately will be His business, His work, His way, and His will.

      Christians have and always will simply be the mouthpiece, the clay jar that possesses the prized treasure, or an instrument, but it is up to the Lord as to how He will use each of us, but we must avail ourselves by faith and offer ourselves on the consecrating altars to allow the Spirit of God to sanctify us for the Lord’s work in these last days.

      In conclusion to this article, walking the Christian walk is about living according to the life of Christ in us, but running the race has to do with our responsibility to lift up the torch of the Gospel and take it to the dark fields of the world, so the light of heaven can penetrate the lost with the liberating salvation of Christ.