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FIRST-PERSON: Viewing the world through an Acts 1:8 lens

GONZALES, La. (BP)–Imagine a camera with a huge lens and God giving you the privilege of looking through the viewfinder to see the world from His perspective. The image you see moves from where you are, all the way out beyond the horizon and into the unseen places of the world. And He sees people.

This is the kind of experience a committed believer has when their life intersects with the truth of the biblical text. This is particularly true when it comes to the mandate of Acts 1:8.

In this moving passage, the living, resurrected Christ commands His disciples to remain in Jerusalem where He promised they would receive power when the Holy Spirit came upon them. Jesus went on to say that this power would enable them to be His witnesses concentrically, beginning in Jerusalem, and ultimately all the way to the ends of the earth.

These parting words of Jesus are clear. Those who follow Christ are to be global in their thinking. This message goes to the heart of one of life’s greatest struggles: Namely, we are wired to forget the world … not remember it.

Paul Borthwick illustrates this in his book, “Six Dangerous Questions To Transform Your View of the World.” In this challenging work, Borthwick referenced a National Geographic advertisement which stated that “24 million Americans can’t find our country on a map of the world.”

“As a follower of Jesus Christ, I find that geographic knowledge follows my beliefs,” Borthwick writes. “My Christian commitment demands that I be concerned about the world for which Jesus died. Yet I find that quite a few Christians are no different from the population surveyed for … the National Geographic Society.”

It’s easy to be so fixated on ourselves and the maintaining of our Jerusalem ministries that we forget about the sea of lostness that Jesus Christ has called us to impact with the Gospel.

As a local church pastor for the last 21 years, 16 of those years in the same church, my primary pastoral labor is in my “Jerusalem” — Gonzales, La. This is where I spend the preponderance of my time and energy. My pastoral journey to embrace global missions has been an incredible story of how God can use a small, ordinary congregation to make a global impact.

FBC Gonzales took its first mission trip as a church in 1999. Since that time the church has sent out over 45 teams on short-term mission projects. We’ve experienced God’s calling on some of the people from our church who now champion the Gospel in faraway places. All the while we’ve maintained a strong commitment to Cooperative Program percentage giving.

In 2001, the church adopted an unreached people group. Since that time the church has experienced the purifying power of missions and celebrated many times as teams returned with incredible testimonies of divine appointments.

Perhaps you wonder, “How do I get started with Acts 1:8 obedience? How can I lead our congregation to view the world through the lens of Acts 1:8?” Consider the following to focus your vision of the world on God’s purposes:

— The priority of prayer.

Prayer is critical. People tend to be spring-loaded to go and do and plan and print materials and strategize, each having their place, but the top priority is to pray. The noted Methodist preacher Samuel Chadwick once said, “The one concern of the devil is to keep Christians from praying. He fears nothing from prayerless studies, prayerless work, and prayerless religion. He laughs at our toil, mocks at our wisdom, but trembles when we pray.”

The entire book of Acts is a clinic on prayer. The disciples were told to assemble, to wait and to pray for the power of the Holy Spirit. In Acts 13, the church at Antioch engaged in missionary praying and fasting. Through this season of prayer the Lord spoke, and they sent out Saul (Paul) and Barnabas for the work. It is incredible to think of the impact of that prayer meeting upon the missionary labor of Paul and Barnabas.

To possess an Act 1:8 worldview, church leaders must call the people of God to prayer for global missions and allow God to surprise His church with a renewed vision and faithful provision.

— The export of a healthy local ministry.

The health of the local church is critical to Acts 1:8 obedience. The early church (Acts 2) was functioning as a body of believers in such a way that the Gospel spread rapidly and the needs in the body were met abundantly. Worship, teaching, fellowship, prayer and evangelism were the commitments of their ministry.

Early in its missions worldview development, FBC Gonzales used the term “export” to describe its missions sending. In a real sense, it believed that by sending out teams, it was “exporting” its local ministry. Because of this process, we have a heightened sense of commitment to the spiritual health of “Bodylife” in our Jerusalem.

Our church is by no means perfect and a church does not need to have everything in order before obeying Acts 1:8. Obedience to the biblical mandate is definitely a process and there is the desperate need for God’s ongoing sanctifying work in our lives. As a result, our church wants to export a healthy ministry: Christ-exalting, Kingdom-seeking, Bible-centered, church-planting, missions-mobilizing and family-building. This is the missions ministry we long to export to the nations.

— Learn from others who are doing it.

Another important lesson for FBC Gonzales is that we did not have to “re-invent the wheel” with regard to doing missions. Resources and opportunities abound to help individuals and churches launch a global focus.

The first mission trip was by invitation from another church that had a developed ministry. We “piggy-backed” on their labor and they imparted invaluable “how-to” information to our church. In turn, the next year, we took our own mission trip and have returned on a yearly basis ever since. Part of what cooperative ministry is all about is churches helping other churches mobilize for Gospel ministry.

The strategies and ideas are endless. The more you are engaged with missions, the more you will experience more missions. Missions beget missions. If steps of obedience are taken, the Lord will open door after door of opportunity. Friendships and partnerships are forged in a common labor.

Experiencing Acts 1:8 missions is the most exciting adventure a Christian can know — to make Christ known from neighbors to the nations. A worldview that begins here and goes there is the experience for those faithful to the Lord.
James B. Law is senior pastor of First Baptist Church in Gonzales, La., and a member of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee.

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  • James B. Law