FRANCIS FONG’S TESTIMONY (4)
Bible verse: Exodus 3:9-12; 4:1-15.
Date: 21st December, 2008
Venue: Perth Chinese Christian Church, South Branch
It is quite obvious that today’s message is part of a series aiming at revisiting the messages in Rick Warren’s book of Purpose Driven Life. Our church did go through that campaign a couple of years ago and many of you would have already read Rick Warren’s book. It is, therefore, not my purpose today to repeat what Rick Warren has said. Instead, we will look into factors that might prevent us to achieve our life mission and some strategies to achieve that mission. To illustrate my points, I would like to present two contrasting stories. The first one was made up by me and will be acted out by myself. It’s a monologue that took place at a Fire Station. [S2]
After that apparently made-up story, now let me share with you a true story – the story of Nick Vujijic. Many of you might have heard his story before, but it’s still worth me repeating it in here.
This is Nick Vujijic [S3] interviewed by a reporter in Hong Kong. To cut the story short, Nick was born without limbs. He considered committing suicide when he was 8. However, after he accepted Christ his whole perspective towards his handicap changed. Now he says, “no arms and no legs, no problem” and sees that as a gift by God. He now has a worldwide ministry called Life Without Limbs. You can access the website printed on the PowerPoint slide.
On November 25 this year, Nick went to Hong Kong as part of his world evangelistic tour. In just two church services, Nick spoke to 30,000 people and 3,000 came forward to ask Christ into their lives for the first time! [S4 & S5]
Now let’s compare these two stories.
Walter’s story was a comedy at the beginning but gradually developed into a tragedy. Let us look at two of Walter’s attitudes.
1. Walter knew his mission but made no effort to achieve that mission. [S6]
Walter knew his mission well. He knew that his boss, the whole fire brigade and the people of Perth entrusted him with the mission of saving people’s lives and properties. He even promised his boss that he would work his guts out to achieve his mission. He disappointed his boss and betrayed the trust that the people put on him.
Rick Warren reminded us that we were made for a mission and he quoted two bible verses:
[S6a] Jesus said, “In the same way that you gave me a mission in the world, I give them a mission in the world.” John 17:18
[S6b] and Paul said, “The most important thing is that I complete my mission, the work that the Lord Jesus gave me.” Acts 20:24
What mission is that? The Great Commission Jesus gave us in Matthew 28:19 says,
[S6c] “Go to the people of all nations and make them my disciples. Baptize them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and teach them to do everything I have told you...”
Unless we are new believers, we should not need Pastor Warren to remind us of the great commission. Many of us know these bible verses very well. As we approach the end of 2008, we should look back and ask ourselves: How often have we shared the gospel with people in the past year? More importantly, how eager are we in reaching out to non-believers? Have we disappointed Jesus? Every minute there are thousands and thousands of people passing away without hope, without salvation. The bible describes hell as:
“where ‘their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.’ Everyone will be salted with fire” (Mark 9:48-49)
Are we going to just let these people head towards eternal suffering and not do anything? If we have empathy to these people and love for their souls, will we not carry out our mission? That’s why Paul said in 1Corinthians 9:16 “I am compelled to preach. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel.”
2. Walter brushed off his responsibility. [S7]
Let’s look at Walter again to see what sort of excuses he used. [S7a]
What are his excuses? “Ring the manufacturer”, “It’s the responsibility of the Parkwood Fire Station”, i.e. not my responsibility! [S7b] What are our excuses of not fulfilling our mission?
Why does Walter behave like that? It’s very difficult to read Walter’s mind, but I can think of four possible reasons.
The first possible reason is: Walter has never been saved by others.
Personally, I think this could be quite a valid reason. Walter has never been touched by love. Those who have not been loved may not know how to love. But this should not be applicable to us who have tasted the profound unreserved love of Jesus. Nick Vujijic is moved by God’s love to love others. This love is so sweet that he wants to share with others. Love is contagious. Only love, not hatred, can change the world. Only love can save.
The second possible reason is: Walter is lazy.
Walter’s actions might just be a result of simple laziness. We live in a so-called “lucky” country with a comparatively lay-back attitude. In 1976, the Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Frazer said, “Life is not meant to be easy”; and, immediately after that, he was under attack by a lot of people. Work in Western Australia in the past couple of years has been tough to some people, but it’s nowhere near the work situation in most other places in the world. Some of us who live in Australia think that they live under the poverty line. Yet, these people still drive a car, live in a big house, have steak for dinner and even go for movies. Look at the people in Zimbabwe. [S8] When a millionaire’s millions are no longer enough to buy a piece of bread; and cholera, as a result of malnutrition, has killed most of your family, that is under the poverty line.
I believe that one of the reasons why Christianity in western countries has gone downhill sharply is because life is too easy. These countries have welfare systems that aim at helping the poor; which is good in many ways and very Christian indeed, but the down side is that it has replaced a lot of the functions of the Church, and people don’t feel that they need the Church or God any more. There was a report in New York Times on Dec 13, only a week ago, that some evangelical churches in America had a sudden surge of attendance. [S9] The article also quoted a study by David Beckworth, an assistant professor of economics at Texas State University. He looked at long-established trend lines showing the growth of evangelical congregations. The research found that during each recession cycle between 1968 and 2004, the rate of growth in evangelical churches jumped by 50 percent. When life is rosy, people think that they are God. They can create their own wealth and they can control their own lives. Walter has an easy life, but that life is actually a tragedy. Nick has a life that seems tragic, but God made his life shine. Recession is now at Australia’s doorstep. Is that a curse or is that an opportunity? The answer depends on how we handle the situation and from which angle we look at it. I hope our church leaders will develop strategies to face this challenging time.
The third possible reason is: Walter is afraid.
Sometimes, we make up excuses not because we do not want to shoulder the responsibility, but because of fear. Maybe Walter is a fire fighter who is afraid of fire. He felt unsafe in the process of saving others.
Fear is a natural feeling given by God so that we will get away from danger. We all have fear. Peter feared and denied Jesus three times. We fear being rejected by others. We fear people may laugh at us when we share the gospel with them. We fear that we may not be able to answer their questions. We fear that we may lose our friends.
In today’s scripture reading, we heard the conversation between God and Moses when God gave Moses the mission to lead the Israelites out of Egypt. Moses said, “Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” (Exodus 3:11). You can see that he was scared. Therefore, he made up all the excuses. Despite God giving him assurance through a number of miracles, he still said, “O Lord, I have never been eloquent… I am slow of speech and tongue.” and “O Lord, please send someone else to do it.” (Exodus 4:13) However, once Moses submitted himself to God to accomplish his mission, God has changed him totally. He became the greatest leader in the history of the Israelites.
Nick Vujijic had fear, too. He feared people would look down on him. He feared people might treat him like an animal. He feared no one would love him. That’s why he wanted to commit suicide at 8. However, once he knew how much God loved him and accepted Jesus as his saviour, with the power of the Holy Spirit all his fear disappeared. He says, “Once we make ourselves available for God’s work, guess whose capabilities we rely on? God’s!” Without fear, he can achieve his mission.
In fact, I searched the New International Version of the Bible and found that there were totally 70 times that the phrase “Do not be afraid” or “Don’t be afraid” is quoted. God knows our fears, that’s why He assured us 70 times that we should not be afraid, for He is Lord God Almighty.
The last possible reason is: Walter didn’t think he had the gift of saving life.
Yes, Walter was trained as a fire fighter [S10], but that did not necessarily make him a competent fire fighter. He thought he was not good enough. He knew his mission, but to him, this mission was [S11] - Mission Impossible. We may also think the same, too. We might not feel that we have any gift to be of any use to God.
None of Jesus’ disciples was gifted for their mission– at least not until the Holy Spirit came upon them on the day of the Pentecost. What happened after that day? The disciples were empowered. They were originally very ordinary people but now they had the power to perform miracles, to heal and to lead thousands to God. If these ordinary people could do it, you and I can also do it.
When I look at myself, like Moses, I am ‘slow of speech and tongue’, too. I have fear standing at the pulpit to share God’s words. My fears are: “Will I disappoint God? What if the congregation fall asleep? What if I deliver a message that is theologically incorrect? Will I cause people to stumble if I cannot walk my talk?” But God still uses this unworthy vessel to deliver His message. You saw me presenting a skit just now. But I have never had any formal education in Drama. Yet, God slowly led me and prepared me to serve Him through Drama. Two years ago, I even had a chance to give a workshop on the topic of “Drama in Christian Education” for the Hong Kong Teachers Drama Association. Today, I’m using Drama to bring forth God’s words. In God, there is no Mission Impossible. In God, all things are possible.
For those who are gifted – whatever your gift is – do not waste it. Walter is gifted with water [S12], but he never used it. This water [S12a], which meant life and death to so many people, had become worthless in Walter’s hands. The word ‘water’ in Cantonese can have another meaning, too. Water equals [S12b] money. [S12c] If God has gifted you with wealth, how are you going to use this wealth? Are you going to use your gift of ‘water’ in a wise way to save souls? In the past year, PCCC has been blest with many new comers from China. Resources in the South Branch are stretched to their limits. We need to have a fresh look at our gifts to see what we can contribute in order that we can continue with our mission to reach out to the new arrivals.
Nick knows his mission. He knows his purpose. He has no limbs, which could be his greatest regret in life. Instead, he looks at it differently. What to most people is a mishap now becomes his greatest gift. Knowing his mission, he is determined to change lives and save lives with this God-given gift. He has no arms but he has probably embraced the biggest number of people that no one has ever done before in history. He has no hands, but through him, God’s love has touched over 2 million people. He has no legs, but he left his footprints in more than 25 countries. I can see that all of us here have arms and legs. Are we faithful to our mission? Are our life mission limited to just growing up, getting a high degree, finding a job, getting married, gathering wealth, having children, growing old and waiting to die? If today you had lost all your limbs, would you still have any purpose in life?
What are the last words that Walter cried out? “Oh God!” Yes, when we are desperate, we cry out to God. But, to Walter, it might be too late. No time is to be wasted any more. I heard that PCCC’s next year’s goal is that each one of us brings one person to Christ. Do you think this is achievable, or mission impossible? Remember, in God, all things are possible.
You might ask, “What should we do now?” I suggest four things that each one of us can do:
1. [S13&13a] Pray for the passion to achieve your mission.
We cannot afford to be lazy any more. Rev. Morley Lee, Director of CCCOWE once said, “Without passion we cannot change vision to mission”. Pray that we all have the passion to reach out.
2. [S13b] Start your mission in your everyday living.
Your passion should be observable in your life. Rev. Lee also said “living=pulpit” and “life=sermon”. Last time when I shared on the topic of “boss-employee relationship” I asked the question, “Are you making a difference in your workplace?” Start making a difference in your workplace, in your school, in your family, in your uni; then you have started your mission work.
3. [S13c] Pray for at least one soul a day.
Pray for someone you know, someone you barely know, e.g. the girl at the checkout point in Woolies, or even someone you do not know.
4. [S13d] Live a simpler lifestyle; save to save souls.
Today, while we are here thinking about where to enjoy our next luxurious Christmas holiday, which expensive car we wish to buy next, there are missionaries out there climbing up mountains trying to reach out to more people. They live in most appalling conditions and risk their lives in order to save one more soul. Instead of dining out 3 times a week, can we survive just going out 2 times a week? Instead of buying a Ferrari, are you happy just having a Mercedes instead? Instead of aiming at buying a Mercedes, is a SAAB sufficient? Instead of a SAAB, can you consider a Toyota? Instead of a Toyota, can you live with a Suzuki? Australians like saving money for enjoyment and Chinese like saving money for investment. Now I urge you to save in order to save souls. Instead of investing in shares, which we now know can be quartered within a month, invest in saving people’s souls. The return is invaluable.
(Remark: [S] refers to PowerPoint slide numbers)