November 26, 2008

The Great Omission

2008 1533 page14 capeveral years ago, a major U.S. city constructed a large, new post office at the cost of several million dollars. On the day of its opening, the state governor made a speech, the bands played, and the people cheered. It was quite a celebration!
But when the first person entered to mail a letter, to the embarrassment of the engineers, they discovered that in the rush to meet the deadline, the letter drop had been overlooked.
Here was a costly new post office, but no place to mail a letter! A slight omission, but it negated the very reason for the building’s existence.
How About Us?
Let’s apply this same idea to the church.
Jesus has made it crystal clear. Just prior to His ascension to heaven, He gave us (what we’ve come to call) the Great Commission (Matt. 28:18-20). The purpose of our existence as a church is to go into all the world with the story that Jesus loves and wants to save sinners.
2008 1533 page14When the church loses its ability to carry out this Great Commission, the result is tragedy. The Great Commission becomes the “Great Omission,” and we become Laodicean, lukewarm Christians.
And lukewarm churches make 
God sick (see Rev. 3:15-17). Lukewarm churches simply coast, simply survive. But God has called the church to do more than just survive or coast. God has called it to do more than just exist. God wants us to move from a place of survival to a place of revival—from a state of simple existence to a state of persistence with God.
We may not be cold, but we’re content with not being hot. We’re operating at room temperature. We sing the words of the hymn “Onward Christian Soldiers” and wait to be drafted. We sing “O for a Thousand Tongues,” but we don’t use the one we have.
It’s time to move from a state of survival to a state of revival. I know many Christians feel the same way.
Jesus Set the Pace
According to Matthew 9:35, 36, “Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.”
Wouldn’t the salvation story be a whole lot different if Christ waited for people to come to Him? But where do we find Jesus? Splitting theological hairs in the synagogue with the religious leaders? Debating fine doctrinal points with the scribes and Pharisees? No. Rather, Jesus is hanging out with tax collectors, the sick, the abandoned, the lonely, the downcast, the prostitutes . . . the sinners. Seeing the people, “He had compassion on them.”
The Greek word used here for “compassion” is splagchnizomai. It’s the strongest word used for compassion, a word used only concerning Jesus in the Gospels.
Why? Because, in my thinking, nobody cares like Jesus.
When Jesus saw the multitudes distressed and suffering, He was gripped with compassion. He suffered within, to the depth of His being—to the point where He was impelled to relieve their pain. His very bowels were moved within Him. He was moved to action.
Matthew 9:37, 38 states: “Then he said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, 
to send out workers into his harvest field.’”
I Got the Point One Hot Summer Day
I always thought I knew what this passage was saying. “The harvest is plentiful” means that there are many just waiting to be evangelized, baptized, and join the church. But recently, God got my attention and changed my thinking.
It was a hot, humid day last summer. I left the church office and was heading out for a pastoral visit. Less than a mile from the church, I drove by a woman and two boys pushing a broken-down car. As I drove by, for a split second I thought about pulling over to help. But it was hot, 95 degrees hot, and I was dressed up, and I really didn’t want to stop. I didn’t feel like pushing a car up the street. So I just kept on going. I got my way.
A few miles up the road, the Holy Spirit convicted me. Throughout the rest of the day, I kept thinking about how I didn’t stop to help. And the Holy Spirit brought this story of Jesus to mind—how He had compassion on the people.
2008 1533 page14I opened my Bible to this story and realized that when Jesus said, “The harvest is plentiful,” he meant that there are people all around us in need of compassion. They are sick, depressed, lonely, harassed, and confused. People all around us need compassion.
The immediate context of these verses doesn’t mean that we need to indoctrinate them, baptize them, or have them join the church. First, it means that they are looking for someone who is compassionate. That’s all.
But Jesus continues by saying, “The laborers are few.” In other words, there are very few people who truly are compassionate. In Testimonies for the Church, volume 9, page 189, Ellen G. White said this: “If we would humble ourselves before God, and be kind and courteous and tenderhearted and pitiful, there would be one hundred conversions to the truth where now there is only one.” And in The Ministry of Healing, page 143, she stated: “Christ’s method alone will give true success in reaching the people. The Saviour mingled with [people] as one who desired their good. He showed His sympathy for them, ministered to their needs, and won their confidence. Then He bade them, ‘Follow Me.’”
It’s been said that people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. Being compassionate doesn’t come from a can or a bottle. True compassion doesn’t pass by on the other side. It comes from spending time with Jesus.
The harvest is beyond the four walls of your church. Remember that Martha was so worried about her housework that she was too distracted to appreciate that Jesus was in the house. She was more concerned about the “rack of lamb” in the oven than the fact that the “Lamb of God” was in her living room.
I can be married to my wife for 50 years, but if I don’t have love and compassion toward her, all I have is a worthless piece of paper. I can be a pastor of a local congregation, but if 
I don’t truly care for them, pray for them, and love them, all I have is a job.
Compassion Personified
In a fifth-grade class at Lake Elementary School in Oceanside, California, one student was undergoing chemotherapy for lymphoma, and all his hair was falling out—so he had his head shaved. A classmate talked to some other boys, and before long, all 13 of his classmates shaved their heads so that Ian wouldn’t feel out of place.
“The last thing he would want is not to fit in,” said his classmate. “We just wanted to make him feel better.”
Jesus said: “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few.” We have to stop saying that people in our community aren’t interested in God and eternity. They’re too rich, too educated, too postmodern.
The problem isn’t with the harvest. They’re just waiting to come in. The problem is with the laborers. There are too few Christians who are truly compassionate. And nothing will distract us more than keeping our eyes on ourselves.
In Exodus 34:5, 6, we read the story of God appearing to Moses. Moses was placed in the cleft of a rock while God passed by. “Then the Lord came down in the cloud and stood there with him and proclaimed his name, the Lord. And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, ‘The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness.’”
It is interesting that Moses, when describing God, speaks only of God’s character. He describes God as compassion, grace, patience, kindness, and love.
Luke 4:18 states: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed.”
This is the dream that God has: that every single one of us becomes a missionary and a reaper. It’s time we stop the “Great Omission” and start living the Great Commission.
Steven M. Jencks is the senior pastor of the Atholton Seventh-day Adventist Church in Columbia, Maryland.