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A Missionary's Letter

Sermon by Sanders Willson on Feb 9, 2003

Romans 15:14-33

Romans 15:14-33
A Missionary's Letter
Rev. Sanders Willson

Let the nations be glad and sing for joy. Let all the peoples praise our God. God, our God, bless us. God bless us that the ends of the earth might fear Him. Let us worship God.

Our Lord and our God we bow before You and we bless You as the One who is Creator of heaven and earth. And You have also brought into being all of the peoples of this world, they are Yours; they belong to You. And we acknowledge, O God, that You have a heart for them and that it is not Your desire that one soul should perish. And so as we come into Your presence this day to worship You we pray, O God, that You would give us Your heart for the peoples of this world, that the nations might be made glad in You. We ask, oh God, that You would meet with us, that You would teach us by Your word, that You would receive our prayers and praises, that You would enable us with hearts filled with gratitude to pour out our songs to You. We pray, heavenly Father, that You would meet with us this day, comforting those who are down-cast, drawing to Yourself those who are distracted, causing those on whom You have poured out blessings to see you as the giver of the blessings and better than the blessings themselves and the greatest blessing that we might find. And we pray, O God, that as we delight in glorifying and enjoying You that You Yourself would take delight and be glorified. For we ask it in Jesus' name. Amen.

I want to thank Dr. Bill Wymond and his fabulous choir for giving us the message this morning. We're involved in something that is cosmic, something that is the ultimate solution for all humankind's problems. And I tell you one day there will be joy in the morning. And all that we strive for, and all that we pray for is not in vain, and it is a great privilege to be with people who believe this, and to be able to look into some of these mysteries together and to think about some of the strategies that we, the called-out people, have the privilege of contemplating and executing. God lets us do this. And to be with people this week who take this very, very seriously and have for a long time. And I simply thank you for the privilege of being here.

I bring you greetings from your brothers and sisters, sometimes blood brothers and sisters, at Second Presbyterian Church in Memphis, but your eternal brothers and sisters. And we do feel, as Ligon said a few moments ago, that we are sisters, sister churches about the same mission. And I always feel that way when I'm with you or your people. And Ligon, it's just a delight to be with you. We thank you for that and for the hospitality that I and other guests here, especially the distinguished guests who are your missionaries, have been taken care of so beautifully and lovingly. We've just been loved. Now we don't want to go home. You've ruined us. And of course I'm so grateful for the many homes here that have been opened to our missionaries and we all thank you very, very much.

Well, please take your Bibles and turn to Romans chapter 15. When I say the word Romans, those of you who have been Bible students for a while, who read through your Bibles on occasion, you will remember that Romans is one of Paul's doctrinal letters. When we think of the Pauline epistles, often we'll think of ad hoc sorts of communications. That is, letters that were sent to particular situations. And usually by reading the Pauline letters you can tell to which situation he's writing. For example, First Corinthians. Why, you can just tell how messed up that church is. Paul said, “Now concerning this, now concerning this, now concerning this,” and he addresses himself to these various pastoral and congregational issues.

But in Romans we've often said, “Now here's one that just seems to be a thoroughly doctrinal letter, just this grand exposition of the heart of the gospel.” And of course, it is. And furthermore, we've said that at the heart of this beautiful exposition is to be found Paul's doctrine of justification. That is, how are we made acceptable before God? And in Romans and, of course, in Galatians as well and some other places, but in Romans in particular, we have this grand display of the real heart of the mystery of the gospel itself. That is, we have a substitute who has stood in our place and taken the wrath of God, and His blood is being shed for the forgiveness of our sins; His perfect life has been lived on our place, so that by trusting in Him we get the credit for all the good things He did. What a deal! And who would want to deny it? Who would not want to receive it? The heart of the gospel is given us in Romans.

The scholars go on to say, “Well you know that's not really his ulterior motive. The ulterior motive for writing to the Romans, and if you will the ad hoc circumstances to which he's writing, is the conflict in the church between the Jews and the Gentiles.” Those of us who live in the South in particular are very aware of the conflicts between white and black. And we in Memphis, as well as you in Jackson, are constantly addressing this issue, constantly trying to apply the gospel to it. Well, we haven't even begun to consider the differences that can exist between two such different peoples as there were between Jew and Gentile. And if you look at Romans 9 through 11, for example, the apostle is going to explain about the Jews and the Gentiles. And some say what Paul is really doing is explaining how there has to be one loving community because of the doctrine of justification by faith alone in Jesus Christ alone. That is, there's a level playing field; everything is level at the cross, and we've all been justified in the same way and therefore we must live in one community therefore you Jews and Gentiles now let's get along together. And you find it of course in Romans 14, in the ethical portion where he's dealing with those who have a tender conscience and those who like us Gentiles don't have much of a conscience at all. How did these two people get together ethnically in the church?

But I want to suggest to you that other scholars have said, “You know, that's true. There is a sociological circumstance to which the apostle is addressing himself with the grand doctrine of justification by faith alone.” But there really is another ulterior motive of the apostle. And for that purpose then, we turn to Romans 15. Some would have thought Paul's major point was already concluded, because in Romans 1 through 11, he's given us the grand exposition of Christian doctrine. In Romans 12 through half of 15, he's given us a grand exhortation on Christian ethics based on that doctrine. And he's already given us two benedictions in chapter 15, verse 5 and chapter 13. He's already said, “May the Lord bless you,” and so on. Sounds like the service is over.

I want to suggest to you that in what comes next, beginning with verse 14, is the ulterior motive of the apostle in writing to the Romans. Let us look at it, Romans 15, 14 through 33. Let us begin with prayer that God would turn the light on in all of our minds. That he would illumine all of our hearts so that we would believe and apply His gracious word. Let us pray.

Father, we by nature take care only of ourselves and concern ourselves only with our own circumstances. And yet when we look at the Lord Jesus Christ and we hear Your word we find another world out there, a world of service, a world of worship, and a world that calls us to the highest and to the noblest. And we would once again arise from our mud puddles of this past week and ascend to the heights of Zion and hear the gracious word of our Father in heaven. Speak, O Lord, for your servants listen. Amen.

Romans 15, 14 through 33. Hear the word of God:

"And concerning you, my brethren, I myself also am convinced that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge, and able also to admonish one another. But I have written very boldly to you on some points, so as to remind you again, because of the grace that was given me from God, to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the gentiles, ministering as a priest to the gospel of God, that my offering of the gentiles might become acceptable, sanctified by the holy spirit. Therefore in Christ Jesus I have found reason for boasting in things pertaining to God. For I will not presume to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me, resulting in the obedience of the gentiles by word and deed, in the power of signs and wonders, in the power of the spirit; so that from Jerusalem and round about as far as Illyricum I have fully preached the gospel of Christ, and thus I aspired to preach the gospel, not where Christ was already named, that I might not build upon another man's foundation; but as it is written, "they who had no news of him shall see, and they who have not heard shall understand." for this reason I have often been hindered from coming to you; but now, with no further place for me in these regions, and since I have had for many years a longing to come to you whenever I go to Spain - for I hope to see you in passing, and to be helped on my way there by you, when I have first enjoyed your company for a while - but now, I am going to Jerusalem serving the saints. For Macedonia and Achaia have been pleased to make a contribution for the poor among the saints in Jerusalem. Yes, they were pleased to so, and they are indebted to them. For if the gentiles have shared in their spiritual things, they are indebted to minister to them also in material things. Therefore, when I have finished this, and have put my seal on this fruit of theirs, I will go on by way of you to Spain. And I know that when I come to you, I will come in the fullness of the blessing of Christ. Now I urge you, brethren, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the spirit, to strive together with me in your prayers to God for me, that I may be delivered from those who are disobedient in Judea, and that my service for Jerusalem may prove acceptable to the saints; so that I may come to you in joy by the will of God and find refreshing rest in your company. Now the God of peace be with you all. Amen."

All men are like grass and all their glory is like the flowers of the fields. The grass withers and the flowers fall but the word of our God stands forever. Amen.

It is true that the Epistle to the Romans is a grand exposition of the heart of the gospel: that we are made acceptable before God merely by what Jesus Christ has done for us and not what we have done ourselves. This is true. And I would agree with those scholars who say there is a greater motive of the apostle. A sociological motive that the church learns to deal with each other as Jews and Gentiles. Precisely because of the heart of the gospel which commands that we get along with all people and love every sort of person from all ethnic groups and all religious backgrounds who come to Christ and who want to be His body.

But I would suggest to you as a result of reading this text, we've seen there is an ulterior motive that transcends even both of those. The apostle Paul is concerned that the gospel get out to the entire world, all ethnic groups, every continent, every age, that the proclamation of Jesus Christ be made to all people. And he is writing to the Romans with whom he is not intensely familiar. But you find from the farewells in chapter 16, he knows a number of people in that church. I would say he knows as many people in the Roman church as I know First Presbyterian Church in Jackson. He has a sense of longing for them. He loves them. He admires them. And he's writing to them because he's on his way to Spain, which has been upon his heart for a very long time, and he's writing to them what we could call ‘a missionary prayer letter.’ That's the ulterior motive. And he's explaining not only the gospel that he will be proclaiming in regions beyond, but he is explaining the heart of gospel as the justification of his ministry and as a justification for their involvement in his ministry.

So we see the connection between the heart of the gospel, being justified, found acceptable before God, purely by what's been done for us in Christ, as a compelling motive for our engagement in reaching the peoples of the world. Therefore when the apostle, the missionary, writes us in his prayer letter, we are trapped happily in the extension of God's ministry through him even in Spain. And that, of course, is the point I think that is being made to us this morning as these distinguished guests that we have with us, these brothers and sisters in Christ, who have gone abroad or some of them here at home, in distinctive ministries: that it is the heart of the gospel that commends them to us for our encouragement and support.

Now I'd like for you to notice two things about this long text that we've read. We'll just divide it in half, from verses 14 through 22 to see this point, that missionaries want us to know in their prayer letters that their mission, their mission is God's mission. Paul makes that absolutely clear. He does not depend upon another man to explain the mission. He does not really depend upon the church in his case as an instrument of infallible revelation, an organ of God's will to the church. The apostle Paul makes this point quite clear, that he is dependent upon God, he received it from God and he's on God's mission. And when missionaries speak to us like Jed and Ken did this morning, and others who you've heard throughout the week, they are basically explaining to us that this is God's mission. It's very compelling.

We'll see that in three ways in the text. In verses 14 and 15, for example, we see that God's mission is accomplished through God's people. The apostle Paul addresses them and says, “Now concerning you my brethren, my family, I love you,” he's saying. I myself also am convinced that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge, and able to admonish that may amaze us that he says these things but truly they can be said of the Roman church, truly they can be said of First Presbyterian church in Jackson. I know how Paul feels. He said you are full of goodness. My wife will have only one complaint against you. When I get home she will complain that you sent her husband home weighing a lot more than when he got here. You are full of goodies, I guess you could say. You are full of goodness and hospitality and of course the whole Presbyterian world knows about First Presbyterian Jackson. You're full of goodness. You are, as the apostle Paul says, filled with all knowledge. You're known as a teaching church and a church who spins out many teachers for the church of Jesus Christ. And you are also able to admonish one another. You have pastoral skills. You have a church that is going in the right direction and all the rest. We see this and understand that God has chosen to do his mission through His people. The apostle Paul is not calling just any old rich person in Rome and saying, “You know, I got a neat thing I'm trying to do here, well, a little entrepreneurial project and I'm looking for a little venture capital money, you know.” And he just doesn't go to anybody, he goes to God's people. They may be poor but they are God's people.

And you look at a church like First Presbyterian Church and we know that in the in the United States, among Protestants, only 11 percent of the churches even have a missions budget. And only four percent of all North American Protestant churches give significantly to missions. Where does that put first Presbyterian? I guess .01 percent or something like that, top of the class. And we say, “We're doing so much. We give $2 million here at First Presbyterian Church to home and world missions. Why don't we get somebody else involved in this? I'm tired!” You'll find always the apostle goes back to the mature people and asks for money. From the immature congregations, he doesn't ask for money for his own ministry. He goes to the mature congregations. So if you want to be left alone you're just going to have to stop giving. But you're giving and so the gospel challenge always comes back to you. God uses God's people in God's mission. Sometimes I think the angels must have little conferences up there and say, "Now Lord don't you have a plan ‘B’? I mean, look at these people. A small little group, there are much wealthier people, there are people with greater imaginations who think more internationally than Your church does. Why do you keep using these people?" "Cause they are Mine." It's a divine mission that uses God's people and that's the way it's going to be.

Now secondly you'll see that it's God's mission, because in verses 16 through 17 you see that this mission is ultimately for God's pleasure. It's most interesting that when you look at these verses, 16 and 17, you find language in there without going through all the details, that is very priestly. Now you'd expect Paul, being a preacher, that if he were to describe himself, if he were using the categories of prophet, priest and king, he might speak of himself as a prophet or use the word evangelist. But he calls himself here a priest. It's interesting. It's unusual. It's arresting. What does he mean, that he's a priest and making an offering to God through his ministry in world missions? Here's what he means. He means that he is a worshipper, and a priest was one who would go into the presence of God and make offerings on behalf of all the people to God, who had access to God. And Paul says "God has given me access and I'm a worshipper of His." But frankly, the apostle Paul is saying, “When I go to worship Him I don't have enough. He is so great, so powerful, so gracious, and I want to bring to Him, more and more to worship Him, and I can't get enough out of my own soul and out of my own voice to offer Him what is His due.” And so the apostle Paul is a priest and is now looking around the world, “Where else can I find worshippers?” He's a recruiter.

And furthermore, he's recruiting them for the choir, to sing praises to God. Every good choir like this one behind me, in front of you, would always love to have more voices. I don't know where you'd put them, but they're always looking to recruit choir members. At Second Presbyterian we're always recruiting choir members. The interesting thing about the Lord Jesus Christ is that He's recruiting choir members. Did you know this? If you look, for example, in verses 9 through 11, you'll find some Scriptures that refer to Christ. And in verse 9 you see it says of him, "Therefore I will give praise to thee among the Gentiles. I will sing to Thy name. Rejoice, O gentiles, with His people," he says. The Lord Jesus Christ in heaven has gathered the Gentiles around. He has recruited them, He has sought them out. The Lord Jesus said "I came not to do My will but to do the will of Him who sent me and this is the will of Him who sent Me, to lose none of all that He has given Me but to raise them up at the last day.” Raise them up for what? To sing to His praise forevermore. Raise them from where? Not just from Israel but from every nation of the world. Look at Jesus Christ in heaven. He's surrounded by the Gentiles praising almighty God. That's quite a picture to Jewish ears in the first century. And the apostle Paul is saying "I'm about the mission of Christ. I'm recruiting choir members, worshippers."

You find often in the psalms that the psalmist will say "Sing to the Lord a new song." That is, come with freshness into His presence, sing a new song to Him. And then he'll say in the next line, "Sing to the Lord all the earth!" John piper puts it this way, he says "Missions is not the ultimate goal of the church, worship is. Missions exists because worship doesn't." We put it in these words. “Missions is what happens to a worshipper when he steps outside the sanctuary.” So what you find in the psalms and what you find in the apostle's ministry and what you find in every sincere worshipper's heart is that he worships, she worships in the sanctuary, and he or she worships right, immediately when they leave the sanctuary in mission looking for other worshippers to bring glory to God, to expand the sanctuary. Let the walls fall down, increase the crowd, grow the church, so that God gets His due.

When the great missionary Henry Martyn went to India and he looked at all the funeral pyres burning in the distance and he saw all the millions of gods in the Hindu religion under every spreading tree, he said in his diary, "It would be hell to me if Christ were always thus dishonored." There's the heart of a missionary. There's the heart of a Christian. It would be hell to us if we had to stand for this for eternity. And the apostle Paul says, I bring an offering to the Lord, I win the Gentiles who then praise Him, that's my offering. So it is God's mission because it is accomplished for God's pleasure.

We're in this business not just because we're trying to increase the size of our club, the Christian club, or not because we think our religion is better than somebody else's religion, although we won't get into that today, but because God deserves the praise from every set of lips from around the world. And it brings us great joy as it does to the apostle.

And thirdly, we see that it is God's mission in verses 18 through 22 because God's mission is accomplished by God's power. Look at these stupendous results in verse 18. "Obedience of the Gentiles in word and deed." That was an amazing thing when we read Acts chapter 3 a few moments ago and we saw “The one lame from birth who was a beggar at the temple, and at the word of the apostle he arose and walked! And the people were filled with amazement and wonder.” Now that's really something to behold!

But what the apostle is saying is that the power of God is best demonstrated when wicked Gentiles begin praising God in word and in deed.

Some three years ago an old fraternity friend of mine, with whom I lived at the University of Virginia in my second year there, called up. I hadn't talked to him in over 20 years. And he was having a little reunion of the fraternity boys in Atlanta. He's a lawyer. He's Jewish by background. And he says, "Hey Willsy. Lippo." I say, "Hey Lippo, good hearing from you, what's up?" And he says, "Well, I hear you're a rabbi." He says, "What in tarnation got into you?" He said, "You a rabbi, you got to be kidding me!" I said, "Lippo, it's one of the funniest jokes I've ever seen in my life." Because Lippo knows about me. And I said "It's amazing, but let me tell you how it happened. I ran into a miracle. I ran into Jesus Christ. I was changed inside out, Lippo, a long time before I was a rabbi. I just simply became a disciple of this one who is the rabbi. Let me tell you about Him." And of course we had a great conversation. Isn't it amazing? The most amazing thing about the power of God is that you've been changed from the inside out. I've seen it happen in my own life. My language began to change. I noticed it! At first it kind of scared me. I'm changing, I'm not in control anymore. I started to spend my money on different things. I started to treat my wife differently. I started to really care about race relations in all the cities that I lived in. I really started to care about the welfare of other people. I started to think about the development of my children in a very different way. I was changed from the inside out. God got a hold of another Gentile by word and deed and it's an amazing thing.

And you see it's also supernatural. In verses 19a and 19b, the supernatural power of God is at work in this. He gave signs and wonders to the apostles. And it's the power of the Spirit that is at work here. This is God's mission! And the range of the work is absolutely spectacular, as you look at the end of 19 and look through 22. There're going to the entire known world. The apostle Paul would not have left Asia unless he'd had a Macedonian vision to go to the Philippians. And he answered that Macedonian vision and we find the he went even beyond that, into Albania and Yugoslavia. An amazing range! And so it is.

Anybody who sincerely worships God wants every one of the 24,000 ethnic linguistic groups to worship God. They want every one of the 1.4 billion who will never hear the name of Christ without a foreign missionary to have a foreign missionary, to hear the word of God and to offer praise to God. There is no state, there is no country, there is no continent that is not under the lordship of Jesus Christ, and who does not need the gospel of Jesus Christ. And what Iraq needs is an invasion, not so much of military forces but of evangelists, proclaimers of the gospel who'll lead them to Christ. What Afghanistan needs is missionaries, people who are sent in the power of the gospel to proclaim the lordship of Jesus Christ. It's what every nation needs. And when the apostle Paul had run out of his menu of nations to visit in the major cities he said, "I've got to go on to Spain because that is God's mission and I will not cease until the King himself returns and claims visible lordship of the entire universe." The mission of the missionary is the mission of God.

But you see secondly in verses 23 and following, to the end of the chapter, that not only the missionary's mission, the mission of God but the missionaries would want us to know in their prayer letters that their mission is our mission. And this is what brings it down to us today. Yes, they're engaged in God's mission. But so are we! By the very nature of the gospel itself, so are we. And we see that in a few ways.

First of all, in verses 23 through 27, you see that this is our mission because we are the ones who offer our provisions. The apostle Paul says without embarrassment, without apology, without ifs, ands and buts, "I'm coming through Jackson on my way to Africa and I'm looking for your encouragement, your refreshment, and a great Wednesday night dinner, and some love, and some hugs, and some financial support so that I can get there because the nation is being erased through HIV aids and there are hundreds of thousands of people in Africa who do not believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and there is a need for millions of Bibles in Africa." And on and on it goes. And without embarrassment I'm coming through. It's just an assumption because my mission is obviously your mission. And I’ll be looking to you for this provision.

But you know it's difficult because we live in a day when we're taught "Get all you can, can all you get and sit on the can." And that's what most of us are out to do, to get the can as big as they can get it and then sit on it. And we spend money that we don't have to buy things that we don't need to impress people we don't like. It's the very nature of the luxury class with whom I live and I'm one of them! The nature of buying and consuming is unbelievable, how it just feeds on itself.

And I’ll tell you there's a people who are against the culture who will challenge the luxury class and it is we. Because we invest in the mission of God that our missionaries are carrying out both at home and abroad. And so we're counter-cultural. And I have already commended you and mean it from the bottom of my heart, I love to be in churches like this because I go home and I say "Now let me tell you folks what the people in Jackson are doing. You think you're doing well, let me tell you what they're doing." And I thank you for nice little comparison I can make when I get home.

But I want to share with you just from my love for you and my love from the mission one of the concerns I have for you this morning. I asked Jim Stewart a few weeks ago to tell me what percent of the congregation submits a Faith Promise and participates in giving to world missions. And he told me that it was 30%. Dear friends, most of the places I go to speak at missions conferences, if they were giving 30%, I'd probably be willing to do a back flip in the pulpit. I'd be so thrilled at their progress in world evangelization. Most churches in this country could not even imagine giving out 30% of every dollar that comes into their church for home or world missions. But I do have to say as a Presbyterian, an evangelical, a missionary along with you, that 30% is not good enough for First Presbyterian Church Jackson, Mississippi. You're leaders. People look to you. We look to you.

Now I'd like for you to give me a little bit more leverage with my people at Second, if you don't mind, by getting your numbers up where they really belong. Some of you may not have participated in world missions. You really haven't thought about it too much. Can you not see this as God's mission? Carried out by our missionaries? And it is our mission. Can we not see that to deny this is to deny discipleship of Jesus Christ? It's really that simple. Jesus said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations." You're either under this authority or you're not. And this faith promise that is before us today is a matter of coming under the authority of the Lord Jesus Christ. You say, "Well, I've got some other interests that I'm involved in and I'm not sure I can afford this." You have one of the best missions programs in the nation. You have a denominational home and foreign missions program that is unparalleled in the world. I don't think that argument is going to fly very well, if you think about it.

And neither is it familial behavior. You have elders here who are leading us as the head of the family and they are commending these missionaries to you. Let us come under the authority of the Lord Jesus Christ and His appointed elders. Speaking of elders, last year our session said, "You know pastor, we would like for the finance office to give us an executive summary to show us the participation levels of our deacons and elders." I said, "Well, that's an interesting thing." “No individual names or amounts. We just want to see what we're doing as a group.” And the numbers came back and it was not 100% participation. And I'm not going to tell you how low it was. It's a little embarrassing. They were informed. I was shocked. I couldn't believe it. Elders in the church of Jesus Christ that were not participating in world missions. Well, that's unthinkable! I'm sure it wouldn't happen at First Presbyterian Church, Jackson. It wouldn't happen anywhere if people were sane. The Book of Church Order of the PCA says that the session will promote world evangelization in its totality at home and abroad. It's constitutional, and more importantly, it's biblical. So you know what our session did? They ordered a decree last year: “Nobody serves as an officer at Second Presbyterian Church unless they are committed to engage in world evangelization through Second Presbyterian Church.” This may be a no-brainer for you. It wasn't for us. But, you know what? It's really changed the whole thrust of life and the outlook of our people. And I commend to every one of you, I plead with you, to be engaged in the missionary mission which is God's mission.

Sometimes I wonder what it would be like if the Lord Jesus Christ Himself, personally collected the faith promises this morning? You ever thought about that? One day I had an event happen in my life that seemed very much like that. When I became a Christian while in England, the pastor had a Down Syndrome child who, I think, was around eight or nine years of age. I saw him just last year and he's 37. And little Eugene used to love to help his daddy in preaching and so there'd be a procession by the choir and little Eugene would be the beadle, that's unusual in the Presbyterian Church, but he was the beadle, and he'd bring the Bible and set it up on the pulpit. And at night he liked to collect the offering. And he would usually do it, at least in the winter, wearing one of his dad's vests. And there was a red one he particularly liked and it would come down to his ankles. And Eugene would come forward wearing his daddy's vest and collect the offering. And one night he got to about the fifth row right there, and he was collecting the offering and there was old Dr. Edward Tinney and his wife Mary, distinguished Presbyterians. If there ever was a 'pillar' and a 'pillarest' in the church, it was the two of them. And Ed and Mary were very generous and they gave of their time and their energy as well as their resources and I'm sure they'd given heftily in the morning. But Eugene comes with the plate to the fifth row, he hands it to Ed and Mary, they're the only ones on the pew, and they hand it back, and it was empty. They'd already given. And Eugene did this. He handed it back and grimaced. I've never seen poor Ed move faster in my life. He was reaching around for money, he punched Mary, reached into her purse and I don't know what he pulled out but he put it in the plate! And of course we were entirely humored by the whole thing. And I've never forgotten that. I thought, “You know, Jesus showed us then His real expectations through a little boy through whom He had spoken many times to our congregation, and he did it again that night.” And I wonder many times, going through the aisles of First Presbyterian Church or Second Presbyterian Church, how many times, if Jesus were the usher, He would have handed that plate right back to you? Because we are the ones who give of our provisions.

You'll notice in verses 30 through 32, we offer our prayers. And Jesus talked about the grand problem, that the harvest is abundant, it is plentiful, it is extraordinary, but the problem is the workers are few. He then gave the answer and He said, "Pray therefore the Lord of the harvest will thrust out workers into His harvest field." Pray to the Lord of the harvest. It's His harvest and we have not because we ask not. What is asking for workers? Let us ask Him for more Jed Johnstons, to go right out of this congregation, right out of the door, right to the field, and supported by prayer and by finances from this congregation. This is the action of the church around the world, to raise up worshippers for Jesus Christ. Let us pray, and with our faith promises this very morning we have the opportunity to commit ourselves to the most important aspect of world evangelization. “I will pray faithfully, God helping me, for this missionary and that one.” And I encourage you this very moment to do that.

Well, lastly, we get to the last verse, "Now the God of peace be with you all." Dear friends, I'm not an old man but I have been around a little bit and have pastored for over 20 years. And I have, because I love Jesus Christ, and I love His mission, I love trying to raise up more choir members for His choir, and I've been to many of the continents in the world. Some of the places I've been, places where missionaries have asked you for support and you've had to turn them down this past year for lack of funds. Like Haiti, for example. Wonderful mission work there that you've had to turn down because of lack of faith promise commitments last year. I've been to these places. And I've seen the heartbreak and the poverty and the filth and the disappointment and the death and misery. And then I come home where I've been a pastor for these years, as has Ligon and some others here, and we know the people of God and they have relationship problems and family problems and they're going bankrupt, some of them. And just this past month another one with cancer and sometimes I go into my office and say, "Lord, I don't want to go through cancer with this man. I do not want to preach his funeral. I am tired of this. I'm sick of seeing the sorrows of the church and the brokenness of the world." And I say, "When are You coming back?" And he says to me, as it were, "The gospel is the gospel of peace. You continue to proclaim the gospel here and around the world and you can taste the peace." And one day we're going to see, as the choir sang it just a few moments ago, there'll be joy, joy, joy in the morning on that day. There'll be peace and contentment for evermore. There'll be love and joy and peace. And the trees of the field will clap their hands and the wolf and the lamb will lie down together. And the gospel will have reached its full commandment and contentment in people who know the Lord Jesus Christ. I long for that day. And I long for the people of First Presbyterian Church to have the fullest of the satisfaction of being the ones who got the choir ready for the big day. May God continue to bless you with His peace and His joy and His love. Amen.

Our Lord and our God, You have given us so much and our priorities are so often so out of whack. And when we hear the grandeur, the size, the weight, the scope, the majesty of this plan that You have, as we have heard of it this morning, our breath is taken away that we give so little towards this great work because it's Your work. It's Your power. It's Your peace. And everyone who has been gripped by the gospel of Christ, everyone who has been gripped by the gospel of Christ, cannot possibly remain indifferent to this call. O God, change hearts today so that out of hearts gripped by the gospel we would give You glory. In Jesus' name. Amen


A Guide to the Morning Service

The Worship of God
“Missions is not the ultimate goal of the Church. Worship is. Missions exists because worship doesn't. Worship is ultimate, not missions, because God is ultimate, not man. When this age is over, and the countless millions of the redeemed fall on their faces before the throne of God, missions will be no more. It is a temporary necessity. But worship abides forever.” (John Piper) The Missions Thought
“Worship, therefore, is the fuel and goal in missions. It's the goal of missions because in missions we simply aim to bring the nations into the white-hot enjoyment of God's glory. The goal of missions is the gladness of the peoples in the greatness of God. ‘The Lord reigns; let the people rejoice; let the many coastlands be glad!’ (Psalms 67:3-4). But worship is also the fuel of missions. Passion for God in worship precedes the offer of God in preaching. You can't commend what you don't cherish. Missionaries will never call out, ‘Let the nations be glad!’, who cannot say from the heart, ‘I rejoice in the Lord….I will be glad and exult in thee, I will sing praises to thy name, O Most High’ (Psalm 104:34; 9:2). Missions begins and ends in worship.” (John Piper) The Missions Conference
Today is a special annual service of First Presbyterian Church: the closing day of the Missions Conference, when we hear from a guest preacher and some of our missionaries, as well as commit ourselves in various ways to the support of missions in the year to come. The Faith Promise Commitment For many years now, the Session of our church has approved a special way of giving to missions called a “Faith Promise.” This giving, specifically for missions, is promoted each year at Missions Conference time. The “Faith Promise” is an ongoing contribution that goes wholly, only, and directly to home and world missions, and is over and above the regular tithes, offerings, and gifts you give to the church. We make a commitment each year at Missions Conference time to give these monies over the course of the year to come, as the Lord provides. This year the goal has been set to raise $900,000 over the next year to be given to the work of missions.

The Guest Minister
Dr. Sandy Willson is the Senior Minister of Second Presbyterian Church (EPC) in Memphis. Sandy has been serving at Second since 1995 and is a graduate of the University of Virginia and Gordon-Conwell Seminary in Massachusetts. He recently received the D.D. from Crichton College. Sandy is literally back by popular demand, so well received were his mission messages just a few years ago.

The Reading of Scripture
We are reading through the Book of Acts at present. Acts 3:1-10 illustrates the principle stated above. The goal of missions is worship.

The Psalm and Hymns
Holy, Holy Holy!

The whole shape of the hymn is trinitarian; that is, it serves to accent the unique Christian doctrine of the Trinity – God is one God who eternally exists in three persons.

Christ Shall Have Dominion (Psalm 72:8-14, 17-19)
This glorious missionary text from the Psalms is set to the familiar tune of “Onward, Christian Soldiers” (which was composed by Arthur Sullivan of “Gilbert and Sullivan” fame).

Christ for the World We Sing
The hymn's author was both a missionary and a pastor, having served in Syria and in a number of American congregations.

This guide to worship is written by the minister and provided to the congregation and our visitors in order (1) to assist them in their worship by explaining why we do what we do in worship and (2) to provide them background on the various elements of the service.

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