Many years ago, my dad bought a small camper trailer and we set out from Texas to go to Michigan on a family vacation — three boys, two of them teenagers, my mom and my dad whose health was in serious decline. He wanted us to have a family bonding experience and see sights off the Interstate.
We were in a camper that would have been great for a newlywed couple, but was seriously undersized for a small family — and way too crowded for three boys! Plus, dad snored loudly and vibrated our little tin can hooked to the trailer hitch behind our "wide-track" Pontiac Bonneville. Mom couldn't sleep because of the noise, my bed was too short for me, and my brothers tried to sleep in the same bed. The only up side to all of this was that most everybody could sleep during the day during our long trips on backwoods "scenic" roads. Don't even get me started about forever adventure in the mountains following the Trail of Tears or losing one side mirror in rush hour traffic in Indianapolis or the other one on a small bridge outside of Memphis.
One night after over 480 miles on the road, we set up the trailer, had supper, and about the time we were finally asleep, we were awakened with the trailer shaking violently in the whipping winds. Jagged bolts of lightning and the crackle of thunder with blinding streaks of light transformed our discomfort into terror. When the hail started, one of my brothers shot up in bed and "crowned" himself on the roof of the camper above his top bunk, setting off waves of laughter and streams of tears.
By the time we arrived at our Michigan destination, we were never so glad to sleep in a motel with two adjoining rooms and a bed for each one of us. We hated the camper trailer and had long ago lost sight of why we went on this family vacation in the first place. Whatever the opposite of bonding might be, we arrived there pulling our camper behind us.
Life in many of our churches is eerily similar to our camper trip to Michigan. We fuss and fight among ourselves, end up on detours and winding roads, and all too frequently forget why we are on the journey in the first place. We lose sight of our goal and frequently just try to survive by keeping everybody happy. So let me remind you of Jesus' last words:
All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age (Matthew 28:18-20).
Many of us have simply forgotten the three-fold call to "make disciples," even though they were empowered by His authority as the Son of God and fueled by the knowledge these were the Lord's last words on earth. So here is a three-point reminder of the Jesus call to us:
- Cross cultures to reach all peoples and nations
- Baptize everyone in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit
- Train my followers, old and new, to obey what I have taught
Others of us pay lip service to this call, but get caught up in "churchland" with all of its stuff and fuss, finding so many of Jesus' harsh words directed at the religious of His day applicable to ourselves.
Others of us have tried to personalize Jesus' "Great Commission" into a mission or vision statement for our own churches or for our own personal lives. This usually occurs with complaints — "Isn't the Bible enough, why do we need something else?" or "Don't forget about keeping our folks happy, too!" Clearly, Scripture and the will of God must be our defining call with Jesus as our Lord. Certainly we must care for Jesus' sheep, binding up the hurting and caring for the wounded. However, as we look at Christianity's shrinking influence in our culture and the little difference in morality lived by those claiming to be Christians and those who are not, we have to admit the harsh reality. We have too frequently forgotten why we are on the journey.
So when I came across Paul's words to the new believers in the small town of Colossae and heard in them the echo of Jesus' last words, I was stopped in my tracks:
To them [the Lord's people] God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. We proclaim him, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ. To this end I strenuously contend with all the energy Christ so powerfully works in me (Colossians 1:27-29).
Compare Paul's words in Colossians 1:27-29 to Jesus' words in Matthew 28:18-20. And please note that the highlighted words "nations" in Jesus' statement and "Gentiles" in Paul's statement are the same word. If you look carefully, Paul's words are a personalization of Jesus' Great Commission. They are his personal mission statement: his vision of what he must do to fulfill Jesus' call in his life.
What about you? How would you verbalize your life's mission? More than worrying about what your church should be doing, what should you be doing? How are you going to live out the life of Jesus in the sphere of influence the Lord has placed you?
Now to keep this from being merely a rhetorical question, I want to challenge you to prayerfully take some time and write out your own statement and go live it. Of course I'd love for you to share it with us on my blog, but most importantly, I want to encourage you to write it down, put it in your wallet or in your purse or on your mirror, and go live it.
We've spent enough time with cabin fever going nowhere while getting on each other's nerves. Let's remember Jesus' last words were a call to make our lives matter ... to a world that needs Him and needs us to bring His message to them.