Defined By a Cause
Dr. Jim Denison
The young preacher was shouted down. He had dared to suggest that the ministers in Nottingham, England discuss “The Duty of Christians to Attempt the Spread of the Gospel Among Heathen Nations.” The moderator of the meeting was greatly agitated: “Young man, sit down. When God pleases to convert the heathen, he will do it without your aid or mine.”
But William Carey would not be quieted. On May 31, 1792, at a Baptist ministers’ meeting in England, he preached the most famous missions sermon of all time. Taking today’s text as his, his message was titled “Expect Great Things From God; Attempt Great Things For God”.
Within five months, on October 2, 1792, twelve of those who heard him that day had formed the Baptist Missionary Society of England. They began work to send Carey to India. And thus began the Modern Missions Movement which has circled the globe with the good news that our Creator loves us all.
We want our lives to matter. And so we engrave our initials on tree trunks and our children’s initials in wet cement. We affix our names to plaques on walls and buildings. We name streets and cities and stadiums for each other. We want to outlive ourselves. We want to leave a legacy, to be significant. Each of us wants to believe that this tiny planet and our brief lives on it are not all there is, that there is something more, something permanent, something eternal. We want our lives to be defined by a cause which matters.
All this month we are learning how to live for that cause. Today we’ll learn from a short, squat English cobbler whose faith and faithfulness changed the world.
Join the battle (v. 1)
I bring you shocking news today: “One month after their gay wedding shocked the world: Saddam and Osama adopt shaved ape baby.” The Weekly World News for November 4 says it’s true. And it adds this story: “Found: Hair from God’s beard! DNA tests prove it’s for real.” I didn’t bother reading the article, so that’s all I can tell you.
You are no less incredulous than the readers of our text today. Such news is no less outlandish, farfetched, and ridiculous. Here is Judah enslaved in the deserts of Babylon, Iraq to us. Their temple is rubble, their traditions shredded, their homeland ruined, they, themselves, captives to cursed pagans.
They are “barren,” unable to conceive a child. Worse, it is as though they “never bore a child.” Still worse, they are “desolate,” with no husband and no hope for one.
And so they have no child and no ability to conceive one. They can give birth to no future. Their hopes will die with them. They can have no tomorrow, no dawn on the horizon, no morning to the nightmare from which they cannot awake.
Theirs is a land without spiritual hope, a place of desolation lost to the love of God. And yet they are to “burst into song” and “shout for joy” because theirs will be more “children” than those who have husbands. In a place with no future, theirs is the brightest future of all.
Many still call Texas the “buckle of the Bible belt.” Why must we be concerned with missions in such a place? Because if such a belt ever existed, and if we ever served to anchor it in place, it is no longer so. We now live and serve in a spiritual Babylon.
8.5 million of our 17 million residents are spiritually lost. This is a number greater than the total population of 42 states in America and 52 foreign countries. Only 15 percent of our Texas Baptist churches are growing, and 85 percent of that growth is from our own children or other churches. Less than 1 percent of our churches are growing primarily through evangelism.
How many spiritual children have you borne this year? To what degree is your soul “barren” and “desolate”?
Look from our state to our globe. See a line stretching around it thirty times, spanning some 750,000 miles, growing 20 miles every day. It is the lost of our world, standing side by side.
We are called to them. We are called to “go therefore and make disciples of all nations,” of each person in that line. We are called to be his witnesses to the ends of the earth, to be his ambassadors to our neighbors and the nations.
Tuesday is Veterans’ Day. This week we remember with undying gratitude those men and women who have served each of us as they served all of us. As they fought for us, sacrificed family and future, plans and dreams for the greater cause of freedom. They know what it is for their decisions and lives to be defined by a cause.
In the spiritual warfare raging in our homes, our communities, our nation, our world, how many of us are veterans? How many of us are defined by this cause?
Attempt great things for God (vs. 1b-2)
We have heard the bad news: the world is lost in the darkness of sin, and each of us is responsible for bearing the light to that darkness. Here’s the good news: when we attempt great things for God, we can expect great things from God. Our lives can matter. Our work can achieve significance. Our days can affect eternity. Our gifts and abilities can change souls forever. The “desolate woman” can have more children than she “who has a husband” (v. 1b). There is hope—great hope. What are we to do?
Give generously: “Enlarge the place of your tent.” Make it bigger, and broader, and higher, and longer, so more can come in. Such enlarging takes material, substance, money. It costs to do this. And so we give what is required, sacrificially and generously.
On January 9, 1793, the Baptist Missionary Society took its first offering, in William Carey’s snuff box, to send Carey to India. It was not much, but it was enough to get him across the ocean and to the need. Without that offering, no missions movement could have been possible, then or now.