Those Left Behind

The following is an adaptation of the sermon ‘Those Left Behind’ preached by Pastor Mike White on Sunday, 5/25/2014, at CityLight Church. To listen to the full podcast please click here: http://bit.ly/1lREEwr

Those Left Behind

We are entering a very exciting season at CityLight Church. We’re sending a team of missionaries to the rural mountains of Guatemala from June 21st to June 28th to build churches and preach the Gospel. My wife and I went with CityLight to Guatemala in 2012, and it is nothing short of life-changing. In Guatemala’s Nebaj mountains, many of the people have literally never heard the Gospel message. It’s amazing to see the transformative power when someone receives the Good News for the very first time. All of our missions trips also give our members the opportunity to minister at church services, and watch God work miracles through them as they lay hands on other people and pray.

But not everybody gets to go. Some of our members might not have the finances to attend. Some might not be able to get time off from work, and others might have family commitments they need to honor. I’ve had a few conversations over the past couple weeks with people who are really disappointed – devastated even – because they can’t come on the trip with us. I think it’s necessary to confront and deal with that feeling of being “left behind,” so that’s what we’re here to do this morning.

The lie from the enemy which we must avoid is this: If I’m not going on the missions trip, I can’t get anything out of it. Completely untrue!

We’re also in an amazing season where God is growing us, and I’ve had conversations with many people over the past several weeks about their desire to be employed in full-time ministry. As someone who’s in full-time ministry, I obviously support that desire: but the truth is you don’t have to be in full-time ministry to live a life devoted to God!

Greener Grass

We are all called to ministry in some capacity. The Great Commission (Matt 28:16-20, Mk 16:15-18) calls us to preach the Gospel to all creatures, up to all the ends of the earth. Each and every single one of us is designed to reach a very specific group of people that nobody else can adequately reach. So even if you’re staying home instead of going to Guatemala, you’re not disqualified from taking an active role in the trip. Even if you’re not a paid staff member at a church, you’re not disqualified from fulfilling the Great Commission!

There will always be some area of spiritual growth that you want to pursue but you just don’t have time. There will always be people around you who are growing in those areas. Is your first reaction jealousy, or is it joy at their growth? If you’re in a secular career, maybe you’ve had dreams of being in full-time ministry. But I can make you a promise: if you’re ever in full-time ministry, you’ll have dreams of being in a secular career!

You might have heard it said that the grass is always greener on the other side. Someone else’s lot in life is always more appealing. The truth is this: the grass is always greener where you water it! So what is God calling you to do? Are you devoting time, energy and resources to fulfill that calling?

David invites us to participate in a divine exchange in Psalm 37:

Delight yourself also in the Lord, and He shall give you the desires of your heart. – Ps 37:4

We should never read that verse and mistakenly think that we can ask God for whatever we want, and He will give it to us. If, however, we ask God for whatever He wants, He will freely give it into our hand. When we spend ample time in prayer, worship, and study of God’s Word, He begins to refine our desires. God wants to adjust our desires so they align with His desires for us! God wants us to delight in seeking His will for our lives. When that happens – when our desires become His desires – He will give us the desires of our heart.

Am I Missing Out?

If you’re not coming with us on a missions trip, it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re missing out. Our heart is that every single person would come with us on one of these trips; but did you know that God isn’t calling every single one of you out onto the missions field? There are fields ripe for harvest right here in our own backyard: people who have never had the Gospel adequately explained to them in a healthy way riding the subway to work with you every morning.

If you’re not preaching the Gospel in a full-time, paid capacity, it doesn’t mean you can’t live a lifestyle fully devoted to God. There is a difference between full-time ministry, which very few are called into, and ministering all the time, which is a call on every Christian’s life. Paul explained the five-fold ministry calling to the church at Ephesus like this:

And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ… – Eph 4:11-13

This calling is not for everyone. In fact, it is for very few. Before I became a pastor, my pastor gave me some very specific advice: if I hadn’t received a very specific word from God calling me into the ministry, I shouldn’t make the change. I would need that undisputable call, he said, to fall back on when times got really tough. He was right: I did (and I do!). Full-time ministry will completely change the direction of your life. The rewards are tremendous, but the work can be extremely difficult.

One of my professors at graduate school had some similarly shocking advice: “If you can be anything else in the world besides a pastor, be it.” Pastoral ministry is one of the most difficult professions in the world. If you don’t have a calling into full-time ministry in your life, God will still use you. Just as Paul was specifically designed to preach the Gospel in specific areas of the world according to his education, skill set and citizenry, so too are you.

This is why it’s so instrumental to be a part of a local church. Paul describes us all as many members of one body in 1 Corinthians 12. We all have unique functions, but we work together to fulfill the needs of the Head: Jesus Christ, the Son of God. One of us might reap, and another might sow, but we all share in the reward:

And he who reaps receives wages, and gathers fruit for eternal life, that both he who sows and he who reaps may rejoice together. For in this the saying is true: ‘One sows and another reaps.’ I sent you to reap that for which you have not labored; others have labored, and you have entered into their labors.”

- Jn 4:36-38

All of us – every single one – benefit corporately from the collective calling of the church. When we send missionaries out into the world, all of us share in the joy. When we call one of our lay people up into full-time ministry, all of us share in the revelation he or she receives.

We All Share in the Reward

There are several stories in the Bible that address this issue specifically. In 1 Samuel 30, David and his men return from battle to find their hometown, Ziklag, completely destroyed by the Amalekites. They took everything: women, children, livestock and any other valuables they could get their hands on. David pursues them after hearing from the Lord that he should. But not all of his men came with him.

There were 200 men who were too tired to go on the mission. They stayed behind at a place called the Brook Besor while the rest of the men went and completed the recovery. When they returned, the men who “did all the work” to recover their possessions thought they should receive all the spoil. Why, they argued, should them men who were too tired to continue share in the recovery? But David disagreed:

Now David came to the two hundred men who had been so weary that they could not follow David, whom they also had made to stay at the Brook Besor. So they went out to meet David and to meet the people who were with him. And when David came near the people, he greeted them. Then all the wicked and worthless men of those who went with David answered and said, “Because they did not go with us, we will not give them any of the spoil that we have recovered, except for every man’s wife and children, that they may lead them away and depart.” But David said, “My brethren, you shall not do so with what the Lord has given us, who has preserved us and delivered into our hand the troop that came against us. For who will heed you in this matter? But as his part is who goes down to the battle, so shall his part be who stays by the supplies; they shall share alike.” So it was, from that day forward; he made it a statute and an ordinance for Israel to this day. – 1 Sam 30:21-25

Not every man went out to battle, but every man received the same reward. Why? How was that fair? Because it was not the men in the fight who had gained the victory; it was God. As His people, all shared in spoil. David knew from prior experience that “…the Lord does not save with sword and spear, but the battle is the Lord’s” (1 Sam 17:47).

When we – the church – send missionaries out into the world, the entire corporate body benefits. The reward is no less for those who stay behind. When our missionaries come back from Guatemala, they’re going to pray for us, lay hands on us and share the anointing they’ve received. They’re going to share testimonies of all the signs, miracles and wonders God has worked through their hands. We are all part of this trip; none of us is just an onlooker.

Jesus tells the Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard in Matt 20:1-16.           A landowner goes out at 6am to solicit laborers to work in his field. He finds men who are up to the task, and agrees to pay them a denarius: one day’s wages. At 9am, he realizes he needs more workers. He finds men willing to help, and agrees to pay them the same wages (a denarius). He does the same at Noon, and then again at 3pm. Finally, he goes into the marketplace at 5pm (the 11th hour; almost the end of the day), and recruits one last round of workers. Their wage? You guessed it: a denarius.

At the end of the day, the landowner started by paying those he had recruited latest in the day, and then worked backwards to pay those who had started earlier. Everyone received a denarius; each man was paid exactly the same. The workers who worked the longest were upset they got paid the same as everyone else. How was that fair? Shouldn’t they be paid more after sweating and toiling all day in the hot sun? The landowner replied, asking, “Did you not agree with me for a denarius?” (Matt 20:13).

All the workers got paid the same, regardless of their start time. They all received the same reward. That’s how the Kingdom of God works! It doesn’t matter if you accept Jesus when you’re in diapers, or on your deathbed: your reward is infinite and eternal.

Not everyone will be happy with that. I remember a day in school when my professor forgot an exam at home. Everyone, he explained, would receive a perfect score because of his mistake. But not everyone was happy with 100%. Those who hadn’t studied were ecstatic; but those who had put in the most work were furious. Eyes rolled and the room resounded with the sound of fists slamming on desks. How was it fair that someone who studied all night would receive the same reward as someone who had never picked up the book? Such is the Kingdom of God.

Now I am well aware that Rev 22:12 says that every man will be rewarded according to his work. I interpret that to mean that, when we get to heaven, all our rewards will be different. They will be personalized. My wife and I will receive different rewards, because we are different people. I could never fully appreciate her reward, and vice versa. But neither reward will be greater than the other; both will be perfect and eternal. God’s rewards are not linear. His wages are not designated with dollar signs, commas and zeros. They are infinite.

When we die, we will all receive the reward that Jesus Christ deserves: the right to enjoy God’s presence for all eternity. God will look at us and see us exactly as He sees His Only Son, and eternally bless us in accordance with that vantage point. Jesus earned us our infinite reward on the Cross. He stayed behind, willingly descending into hell on our behalf, so that we could be sent to heaven.

The Whole House

When one of our members is sent out, the entire house benefits. When one of our members is called into full-time ministry, the entire house benefits. John 12:1-3 describes the story of Mary pouring a “very costly oil” onto Jesus’ feet. She anointed One Person for the benefit of many. And what happened when she had finished?

“…the house was filled with the fragrance of the oil.” – Jn 12:3

The entire house enjoyed the sweet sacrifice which had been poured out on Jesus’ feet.

- by Pastor Mike White

© Michael D. White and CityLight Church, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Michael White and CityLight Church with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.