I was preaching in Lviv recently when I remembered an example of missions that I had not thought of for 40 years. What jarred the deep archives of my brain is a mystery, but the example was apt as we were expounding Isaiah 54 where God was telling Israel to enlarge their tents. Of course, we were using this example for evangelism.
As a child our family still gathered around the TV for shows like “Ed Sullivan”, “Jack Benny” and “Truth or Consequences”. It was a golden age of low technology, but clever, family-oriented humor. On this particular evening the host of “Truth or Consequences”, Bob Barker, invited a “random” person from the audience to try her luck at winning an all expenses paid trip to any place on the planet that she chose. Let me add here that the host and the woman’s family had planned this all in advance. She was not randomly chosen, and neither was her destination.
In order to win the trip the woman only needed to throw a dart at a giant world map, and wherever the dart landed she could go. Did I mention that she would be blindfolded? They rolled out the giant map, she threw her dart – it never hit the map but landed on the floor – and to her amazement when she took off the blindfold the dart was stuck on North America. Well, there goes the trip to Europe. She still might get to New York.
Another map was rolled out, and it was a detailed map of North America. I will let you know now that this woman was from a small, unglamorous town in northern California. The woman repeated the dart throw again while managing to this time hit the map, and once again when she removed the blindfold she was surprised to see the dart stuck in California. She still had hope that she might get another trip to Hollywood, but her countenance was dropping.
The next map to roll out was of course…California. The process was repeated, and when the blindfold was removed the dart was right in the middle of Smallville, California, her hometown. Meanwhile, the audience was having a corporate hernia holding in the laughter because they too were actors in this ruse. Our sad subject was now using all the inner strength that she had to display thankfulness that she had won a trip to her own hometown, but the joke was soon revealed, and she was given a real trip to Europe with her husband. The ending was good.
So, what in the world does this have to do with the church and the first foreign missionary? Glad you asked! First, let me reveal to you who the first foreign missionary was/is. He is the Holy Spirit. Despite whether or not you are Baptist or Charismatic you have to agree that the very first utterance of the Holy Spirit through the church in Acts 2 was to proclaim the mighty acts of God in all the languages of the foreigners in Jerusalem. God wanted the nations to hear the gospel from the first divine breath of the creation of the church. Next, God had to practically drive the church out of Jerusalem so that they would go to the nations. Nonetheless, they still stayed within their comfort zone, and they only finally realized what God wanted to do when God gave both Peter and the gentile centurion, Cornelius, direct visions to meet each other. It was only complete when the Holy Spirit made the same proclamations through the mouth of Cornelius.
In the modern church, God is like the woman throwing the dart hoping to get us to reach the nations. However, the church being the host of the show continues to move the dart closer to home with the sad result that we can no longer recognize the nations that God has brought to us. Isaiah is used by God to exhort the people of Israel to broaden their influence, and he is actually talking about doing so on the level of the individual.
We need to open our eyes and to be aware that God has called us to reap a mighty harvest, but we cannot do so unless we aim for the nations. In the end, we should stop repositioning the dart.