"Space, the final frontier. These are the voyages of the STARSHIP ENTERPRISE. Her five-year mission: To explore strange, new worlds; To seek out new life and new civilisations; To boldly go where no man has gone before..."
These are the words that started every episode of the early series of Star Trek. They helped you understand what would follow. You needed them to fathom the behaviour of Kirk, Spock and the other members of the crew of the Enterprise. You needed to know why they were out there in deep space hurtling along at warp factor nine. You needed to know the mission. And as Christians it's helpful to be regularly reminded of our mission. What is the purpose of the Church? Why are you and I here? Why has God left us here on earth and not taken us to be with him yet? What are we supposed to be doing? What are our priorities? Please turn with me to Romans Chapter 1 and verses 8 to 17. We want to think about our Mission under three headings. First, THE EFFECTIVENESS OF THE MISSIONARY MESSAGE; secondly, THE SCOPE OF THE MISSIONARY TASK; and thirdly, THE PASSION OF THE MISSIONARY HEART. First, THE EFFECTIVENESS OF THE MISSIONARY MESSAGE Several years ago I went white water rafting with some friends on the East coast of Taiwan. For four hours we battled the rapids and somehow managed to avoid capsizing or being thrown from the boat. Then suddenly we rounded a bend, passed through a gorge and came to the mouth of the river. A short distance in front of us was the Pacific Ocean. Ahead of us, on the right bank, we saw several rafts drawn up out of the water and we assumed that was our destination. One of my companions, a Texan who glories in the name of Salt Jones, could resist the temptation no longer and threw himself overboard into the cool, refreshing mountain waters. I followed suit. We both fancied ourselves as strong swimmers. We reckoned that if we swam perpendicular to the current it would carry us nicely to the point on the bank where the rafts were. It quickly became obvious that the current was much stronger than we had anticipated. It swept us along bruising and cutting our bodies against the rocks. We were powerless to save ourselves. There was no way we could reach the bank. We could not stand up; the current was too swift. Nor could we swim back against the current to our raft and the others were unable by this time to catch us even paddling hard. We were in great danger of being washed out into the Pacific! I realised that a gold survival award was not going to get me out of this one! Just as disaster seemed inevitable, the high pitched throbbing of an outboard motor cut through the roar of the swollen waters. It was one of the assigned rescue inflatables. We were pulled somewhat ignominiously out of danger, with our bodies, though not our pride, intact. We ignored common sense and leapt into the river. We suffered the immediate consequences of that as we were battered along by the river. And we faced the ultimate consequence of being washed out to sea. In a way our experience was an echo of the very real issue of sin facing every individual on this earth. We have rebelled against God and his perfectly reasonable guidelines for life. We are suffering the immediate consequences of choosing to ignore the Maker's instructions with symptoms such as broken relationships, shattered dreams and a wrecked environment. And looming over us the inevitable ultimate consequence of God's righteous judgement on our sins. Meanwhile we thrash around trying to do what we are powerless to do...get ourselves out of this mess. But into this situation God's power breaks in.
"The gospel....is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes."
That word power is Dunamis in the original Greek. It's the word from which we get dynamite. And the gospel is explosive in its effect. It blows away our pride. It demolishes our self centred lifestyles. Just as dynamite might be used to break open the walls of a prison, so the gospel breaks us free from the ensnaring power of sin. But it would be wrong to simply focus on the destructive aspects of dynamite. This is also the word from which we get dynamo and dynamic. The gospel is the power of God on which to build a new life living according to God's tremendous purposes. For the good news, the gospel, is that God has mounted a rescue mission. He has sent his Son Jesus to die for us on the Cross. There Jesus has taken our sins and the punishment they deserve on himself. In so doing he has made it possible for us to be right before God and to be reconciled to God.
"You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly" (Romans 5 v.6)
In the Gospel we find both salvation from final judgement and the strength to face living in a world full of the consequences of sin today. Tang Ming Syung was a taxi driver. Whilst drunk he got into an argument in a club. Later he came back with a gas bottle and set the place on fire. Sixteen people died. He was sentenced to death. After the trial the families of many of the victims harangued him in their grief and anger. But one woman didn't, she held back with tears in her eyes. She was from one of Taiwan's aboriginal minority groups and a believing Christian. She asked God for strength to forgive this man who had killed her brother. Later she wrote to him in jail. He couldn't understand how someone he had hurt so much could forgive him for what he had done. She explained that it was only because God had forgiven her for all that she had done. He was intrigued. What kind of love is this? The gospel powerfully broke through. He gave his life to Christ. He shared his new faith with other prisoners and wardens. His life was transformed. He still had to pay the penalty of law. He was executed last July. But as he made his way to the chamber where a single bullet would close this chapter of his life, he had hope in his eyes and a song of praise on his lips. Because he knew that when he stood before God's judgement seat that the price had already been paid. He would do so as a forgiven man. Righteous, that is right with God, not because of his life, but because of his faith in what Jesus had done for him. Fifteen months ago Shu-fen was suicidal. Her husband would violently assault her, he would spend all his money on wine women and song. He would often bring the women home with him. She had fled home with her two teenage daughters and her young son. Thoughts of ending it all filled her mind. Then one day she was offered a lift home from market by a couple in our church. She burst into tears at this small kindness from strangers and they were able to pray with her and tell her the gospel. She very quickly responded to God's love and committed her life to Christ. The change was dramatic. Not the outward situation, her husband continues to cause her grief. He found where she lived turned up drunk at three in the morning wanting to see the kids. When the security guard wouldn't let him in he tried to beat them up. But Shu-fen has found God's power to save her and change her life within. Now she has a radiant faith within to take her through these times. She has peace and hope. And she is able in God's power to serve and help others.
"The gospel is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes."
Later in Romans Paul will write:
"Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved."
But he then goes on to say:
"How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? (Romans 10 v. 13-14)
The gospel, the missionary message, is effective. But only for those who hear it. Which brings us to our second point.... Secondly, THE SCOPE OF THE MISSIONARY TASK Paul takes three of the great divides of the society of his day and says it doesn't matter whether your religious background is Jewish or Gentile. It doesn't matter that your social background is civilised Greek or uncivilised Barbarian or that your educational background is a Ph.D. or a nursery school diploma. You need the gospel and the gospel is God's power of salvation for you. The problem is that there are still a vast number of people in the world who have never heard the gospel presented to them in a way they can really relate to. Many have not got a Church that's culturally close to them. They need people to cross cultural barriers to tell them the gospel. And even in countries where there is a vibrant Church many people still remain at a distance. There are people passing us by in the street every day who need to hear the gospel. Will they have a chance to hear this powerful good news in time? Around six years ago I was living in Taipei, the capital of Taiwan. One morning, around 4.30, I was awoken from a deep slumber by a loud bang. I knew immediately what had happened. One of the large gas bottles used for cooking and heating water had exploded. Sure enough the cry of "fire, fire!" could be heard on the never empty street outside. Having made sure that it was not our block that was ablaze, my room-mate and I quickly got dressed and went to see if there was anything we could do to help. Just around the corner a third floor flat was on fire. Flames were licking out from the kitchen at the back. All around were people watching on the street, seemingly unperturbed. I thought everyone must have evacuated safely from the block. Almost immediately the fire brigade arrived so there was little to do except help them move some bikes and motorbikes so that they had better access for there hoses. After that we went home, though we were too wired to sleep again. That evening I read in the paper that the occupant of the house, a teacher at Taipei's top boy's high school had been killed in the fire. The report suggested that he had probably died instantly in the explosion, so any rescue heroics would have been pointless. But this incident brought me up sharp. I might not have been able to help that man that night. But how many times had I passed him in our street as he headed out to get the bus to the school? Perhaps we'd even eaten in the same restaurant. But I'd never spoken to him, never got to know him, never shared with him the gospel of Christ that is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes, including him. And now he was gone. No more chance. No more hope. I knew I had to look afresh at my priorities. And I had to start by looking inwards at my motives, which brings me to my third point...... Thirdly, THE PASSION OF THE MISSIONARY HEART Recently I had an echo-cardiogram, which is basically a sonar of the heart. It's fascinating to be able to watch your heart beating on screen, seeing the valves pumping and the blood flowing through. The medics are able to diagnose a lot about the health of the heart from what they can see on it. In a sense in these verses we get something of a spiritual echo-cardiogram picture of Paul's heart. How does this great missionary's heart beat? What is it that motivates him? And if we could take a similar echo-cardiogram of our own heart, how would our heartbeat shape up in comparison with his? Firstly, in verse 9, he tells us he serves God with his whole heart. Paul's whole being is dedicated to God and the cause of the gospel of Christ. Above and beyond everything else God is of paramount importance in Paul's life. The NIV translation says he serves God with his whole heart 'in preaching the gospel of his Son.' The word Preaching isn't there in the original Greek. Preaching is certainly included in this wholehearted service, but it is more than that, it is living the gospel. The first passion of the Missionary's heart is for God and his glory. But the heart-beat can be measured in other ways as well. In verse 14 Paul talks about being bound, or obligated to men and women. There is a strong force that is driving Paul to share the gospel with others. At first it may sound like mere duty but in reality there is strong feeling, there is deep compassion behind it. He describes this force in 2 Corinthians 5 v.14 by saying that he is compelled by the love of Christ. There's further evidence of the depth and strength of this compassion in Chapter Nine. When in talking about his concern for the Jewish people Paul says that he could wish himself 'cursed and cut off from Christ if in some way it would result in their salvation ' (v.2-3). Here is a man motivated by compassion. I think back to a hot sticky morning on the edge of a village in central Thailand, watching a missionary nurse in action. As she carefully, tenderly treated the festering sores of leprosy patients she shared with them the good news that whereas many reject them because of the disfigurement of their hands, feet and faces, the living God cares deeply enough to give his Son to die for them. I am reminded of a journalist visiting a doctor in India doing a similar sort of job. The journalist confessed to the doctor that he wouldn't do his job for a million pounds. The doctor confessed that neither would he. It takes a different sort of motivation. A different heart. Together Passion for God and compassion for people are the mighty muscles that pump in the heart of the missionary. And they produce two attitudes: Firstly, Eagerness to preach the gospel (verse 15). There is an urgent desire for this task. Are you an enthusiast for the challenge that Jesus gave us to making disciples of all nations? Does it tend to crowd into your thoughts and influence all your decisions? Are you champing at the bit to share the gospel. And secondly boldness. "I am not ashamed", says Paul. It seems that in this country we suffer from something of a "loss of bottle," when it comes to the gospel. We're afraid of being labelled 'intolerant' or thought of as 'fundamentalist fanatics' by our friends. Now, of course being bold and having confidence in the gospel is not the same as arrogance. We are not promoting ourselves here. We must be sensitive in the way we proclaim the gospel. But we must never be cowed into clamming up! Because the gospel, and the gospel alone, is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes. People need to hear the gospel. Summary: What to do now! How should we respond to today's challenge? The passage itself suggests at least five ways we might respond. First, accept the gospel. If you have never done this then do so now. Don't put it off. Don't waste a moment more of your life in the rapids of sinful rebellion against God. Let God rescue you. The gospel is the power of God for your salvation. All you need to do is accept it by faith, by believing that Christ died for you and committing your life to him as saviour and Lord. "Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved." Secondly there is thanksgiving (v.8). Be thankful for what God has done in saving you. Be thankful for the way people from every continent are coming to a living faith in Christ. It's exciting that many are being saved and bringing glory to God. Thirdly, pray (v.9). Paul prays for the Roman Christians in their life and sharing of the gospel. In Ch. 15 v.30 he asks them to pray for him and his ministry. Make sure you are praying for others to come to Christ. If you are not already praying regularly for one of the missionaries we have sent out or an overseas partnership project then make the decision to start to do so. Fourthly, encouragement (v. 12). We all need it. Think of practical ways to encourage others as they share the gospel of Christ in their situation. Be creative. We want to thank you for the encouragement you've been to us over the years. We hope that in a small way we have been able to encourage you. And don't forget the staff members here when you are thinking whom you can encourage. Finally, Involvement. Throw yourself wholeheartedly into God's agenda - the gospel of his Son. God is calling some from this congregation to go to other countries, to people of other culture so that they might hear this powerful gospel. If you don't go they may not have a chance to hear. But for many, God isn't sending you so far. He wants you to go to your friends, colleagues, family with this message of hope. But whether it is near or far, God is waiting, the Church is waiting, a hurting world is waiting for men and women who are willing to serve God with their whole hearts in the gospel of his Son.