Monday, May 9, 2016

The End of the Earth

I had another reminder yesterday of the importance of the church in extreme rural areas. A younger couple recently moved to a nearby ranch, had met one of our congregation’s members at the post office, and had accepted the invitation to Sunday worship. Let me make this less normal: “nearby” is 45 miles. The ranch was down near a border port-of-entry. 45 miles away. There is no town, no other church between us and them. They would have had to travel 30 miles from us to the west and 45 miles from us to the east to find another congregation.

This is my Sunday afternoon passion.

I love Tim Keller, even with his passion for the large city. My denomination’s North American mission organization has made its focus cities on our continent with 1,000,000+ residents. I agree that cities are important (it’s where the people are), but cannot, cannot, cannot forget the nowheres.

“…you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth (Acts 1:8). The Lord has graced me with a “remotest part of the earth” in which to serve on my Sunday afternoons, and a congregation I serve full-time in a small city of 10,000 residents 90 miles away which not only allows, but encourages my service elsewhere.

The risen and glorified Christ sings about my beautiful nowhere: “From You comes my praise in the great assembly;
I shall pay my vows before those who fear Him.
The afflicted will eat and be satisfied;
Those who seek Him will praise the Lord.
Let your heart live forever!
All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the Lord,
And all the families of the nations will worship before You.
For the kingdom is the Lord’s
And He rules over the nations”
(Psalm 22:25-28).

One of our men called us to worship yesterday morning with Psalm 98 in the “city church” in which I serve. It was his last Sunday with us – he and his wife had to move to a “big city” in another state for medical services. He read to us:
“O sing to the Lord a new song,
For He has done wonderful things,
His right hand and His holy arm have gained the victory for Him.
The Lord has made known His salvation;
He has revealed His righteousness in the sight of the nations.
He has remembered His lovingkindness and His faithfulness to the house of Israel;
All the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God.
Shout joyfully to the Lord, all the earth” (98:1-4a).

Isaiah shares this witness:
“Sing to the Lord a new song,
Sing His praise from the end of the earth!”
(Isaiah 42:10).
“I will also make You a light of the nations
So that My salvation may reach to the end of the earth

“The Lord has bared His holy arm
In the sight of all the nations,
That all the ends of the earth may see
The salvation of our God”

Pastors, deacons, Sunday School teachers, seminary students…got three or four hours free (like on a Sunday afternoon)? I’m willing to wager there’s a nowhere within reach of you who cannot afford a full-time (or even part-time) pastor. But there are souls there. Souls which need the Gospel. Souls who know Jesus and therefore need the latter part of the Great Commission: “…teaching them to observe all that I commanded you” (Matthew 28:20). Small church buildings need to stay open, casting light over towns that are nearly ghost towns and further, 45 miles away and beyond. The Church must gather, even in the beautiful nowhere where God still walks. Can you give that kind of time to a nowhere? “Big city” churches, can you support and encourage such efforts to keep the lights on where very, very few will see them?

Six years ago my “city church” gave one of its vans to a small church in a town on the other side of the state (population 300). The older man who was serving that congregation at the time was an experienced church planter. He knew of my Sunday afternoon work in the nowhere. He looked at me, squinted his eyes, and said, “I used to do what you’re doing – it made me old.” I think of that often. Thought of it - or rather, felt it - yesterday as I drove the 98 miles back for evening service.

But it’s worth it. God has blessed me through that ghost-town congregation more times than I can count over the last nine years. We have baptized new believers and buried saints who have graduated to glory. We have reached out to help this shrinking town (70 residents when I started, 30 now) several times a year. I learned how to preach to 2 to 3 people here (that’s how we started). Souls for whom Jesus died. Souls that need the Word taught and explained and fed to them.

Do you have time? There are nowheres with souls out there. Don’t forget them. Please. When I travel I am sensitive to these little isolated collections of people - especially when there's no church in their midst. They are a mission field as surely as the isolated African village or the North American metropolis. Who will serve them?

A young couple drove 45 miles to worship yesterday afternoon. And, in the middle of nowhere, there were open doors and a welcoming congregation ready to receive them.

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