The following is the transcript from the sermon preached at the Hilltop Conference, April 24, 2017, on the campus of the Arlington Baptist University.
It is probably safe to assume that if you are here tonight, you already are committed to the cause of Christ, to the Great Commission, to world evangelism and church planting. You have probably lost track of the number of times you have quoted, preached or taught on the Great Commission. Am I wrong? You can probably quote Matthew 28:19-20 in your sleep! You know the plan. You know the marching orders.
But what I want to challenge you with tonight is not so much about remembering the plan or getting with the program. It goes much deeper than that. It’s about God’s heart – and our need to constantly realign our heart with His heart. It is something we need to do individually as followers and servants of Jesus Christ; it is something we need to do corporately as local churches in specific communities; and it is something we need to do collectively as the World Baptist Fellowship, as a partnership of local churches that are committed to the global, eternal cause of the Gospel.
Just like our vehicles can get out of alignment and begin to drift in different directions, our hearts, even as pastors, missionaries, and servants of God, can so easily get out of alignment with God’s heart. We can begin to pursue our own priorities, agenda, goals and desires. We don’t do this on purpose. In fact, it usually happens unintentionally, gradually and imperceptibly. On the surface, we are still following His plan (at least, that’s what we think, that’s how it seems). But underneath we have drifted from God’s heart. Brothers and sisters, tonight I want to challenge you with the need to align with God’s heart. Listen to these words from our Lord Jesus:
John 4:34-38 Jesus saith unto them, My meat is to do the will of him that sent me, and to finish his work. Say not ye, There are yet four months, and then cometh harvest? behold, I say unto you, Lift up your eyes, and look on the fields; for they are white already to harvest. And he that reapeth receiveth wages, and gathereth fruit unto life eternal: that both he that soweth and he that reapeth may rejoice together. And herein is that saying true, One soweth, and another reapeth. I sent you to reap that whereon ye bestowed no labour: other men laboured, and ye are entered into their labours.
I don’t need to say much to all of you about the context of these words. You know the story, you know the culture, you know the events. You know about Samaritans and Jews, practically living in each other’s backyard, yet with a cultural divide that seemed impenetrable. And one of the reasons it was impenetrable was because nobody even wanted to cross the divide. The Samaritans and Jews were just fine leaving each other alone and ministering to their own people, culture, ways. Crossing that cultural and ethnic divide wasn’t on anyone’s radar, agenda, or bucket list – especially the disciples. But listen: it was on God’s heart.
I want you to notice something before we get into these verses: This took place long before the day of Pentecost (Acts 2), long before the Great Commission was given by Jesus (Mt 28; Mk 16), even long before the Cross of Calvary. This too place long before the NT church received those famous marching orders, and was empowered by the Spirit of God to reproduce itself in Judea, Samaria, and the uttermost part of the earth. Long before the “plan” and the “program” was defined and delivered, we get to see the heart of Jesus, the heart of God. You see, it’s not about God’s program; it’s about God’s heart.
Remember what had just happened here. The Samaritan woman was not looking for Jesus, but Jesus had been intentional about going to her. As a result of their conversation about living water, true worshippers, and the coming Messiah, this woman finally understood and responded to the Gospel. She then returned to her town to share the news about Jesus, and now a crowd of Samaritans was headed toward Jesus and His disciples (vs 28-30). Unlike many of the Jews, this crowd, this people group, was open to the Gospel message and ready to respond in faith (vs 39, 41). But before all those Samaritans became followers of Jesus, the Lord was privately opening His heart with His disciples, so that they could see His heart, and align their heart with His.
The disciples had been on a grocery run, and had gone into town to buy “meat” or food. Now that they were back, what they had on their minds was their stomach. And they wanted Jesus to stop and eat (vs 31). But, as Jesus often did, He turned the physical situation around to talk about spiritual things (vs 32-33).
It is here that Jesus shares His passion, His heart (vs 34). This was His “meat” (“This is what nourishes me, sustains me, fuels me, drives me”). What was it? It was a commitment to the Father’s will and the Father’s work. It was a passion to do God’s will, and to finish God’s work. Not His own plans, agenda, goals, and dreams, but those of His Heavenly Father. That was what fueled Jesus – being aligned with the heart of the Heavenly Father.
Let me ask you this: What fuels you? What is it that nourishes you and drives you? What is your passion in life and ministry? Are you fueled by your own life goals, ministry dreams, career path, and personal ambitions? Maybe your fuel is running a bit low, and you are frustrated in life and ministry because of unmet expectations. Things just aren’t the way you think they should be. Maybe you find yourself relating to those disciples, standing there with their mouths hanging open, because God is doing something in your life and ministry that you don’t understand, that you aren’t comfortable with, and that does not fit into your model and strategy.
Friend, it is here that you and I must make a choice. Do we align with God’s heart, or do we fight for our own? In the next few verses, Jesus allows us to see a bit of God’s heart. We get a glimpse of God’s heart for the world and for the Kingdom. What is God’s will that we must do as pastors and churches? What is God’s work that we must finish as pastors and churches? You see, long before the local church began its world missions work, we see that God’s heart has always involved two fundamental things. These two things happen to be at the core of our mission and purpose as the World Baptist Fellowship. First, we see that God’s heart involves:
Cross-cultural Vision (vs 35)
You and I know that Jesus was not speaking of the farmland all around them. He was speaking about people, about the souls of men, women, boys and girls. But He was not specifically referring to Jewish people.
As Jesus was speaking these words, dozens, if not hundreds, of people from another culture were headed their way. These were people with different habits, traditions, politics, worship practices, preferences, and countless other differences, yet having the same desperate need of Jesus, of forgiveness, of salvation, of the Gospel. This culture, this people group, needed the Gospel just as much as the Jews did. And God’s heart was to reach those people too.
Jesus told the disciples to lift up their eyes and look. “Look up and look out!” In other words, be intentional. Look beyond your community, ethnic group, social demographic, nationality. There are people and people groups everywhere, and they desperately need a Savior. Many of them are different than you, but they are lost without Jesus. Honestly, their ways might make you uncomfortable, but allowing them to be damned in hell should make you even more uncomfortable. You cannot be aligned with the heart of God without having a cross-cultural vision, burden and passion.
Yes, there are people groups across the oceans that need to be reached, that must be reached, and it’s on us to do so. But there are also cultures and ethnic groups all around us and around our churches that we are supposed to see with the same heart that Jesus sees them. Why? Because it’s the plan? Because it’s the program? No, it’s so much deeper than that.
We need a cross-cultural vision because this is God’s heart! A heart that “so loved the world.” A heart for all cultures, ethnic groups, and nations. A heart for true, biblical diversity. A heart for multicultural ministry and outreach. A heart to do whatever we must do as pastors and as churches to effectively connect with people that are not just like us.
Jesus seemed to be “ahead of His time” when He spoke these words. Jesus was preaching to non-Jews long before the local church figured it out. Samaritans came to Christ long before Pentecost, the early church years, the persecution and scattering of believers, and even the preaching of Philip (Acts 8). Why? Because it is God’s heart, and Jesus was already aligned with it. It is God’s heart, and it needs to be ours as well.
The disciples were not initially aligned with God’s heart. They did not have a cross-cultural, multicultural vision and burden. But Jesus did. And it was on them to move, to align. It took guys like Peter a very long time, a lot of divine intervention, and some personal confrontations (like with Paul), before he was willing to truly move beyond his prejudices and personal convictions to align with God’s heart, to align with God’s will and God’s work.
The need for a cross-cultural vision and burden is just as pressing today. The implications for world missions are obvious – with over 6,500 people groups still unreached, and with millions of souls without access to a clear presentation of the Gospel of Christ. But it’s not just for foreign missionaries.
Pastors, preachers and ministry leaders in America need it too. We need a cross-cultural vision for our own churches and ministries. The World Baptist Fellowship is not exactly a beacon of cultural and ethnic diversity in America. We have not been very effective at engaging and equipping pastors who are African-American, Hispanic, Asian, or Native American (just look around). We live in a very diverse culture, and yet our churches struggle (as does our Fellowship at times) to make the necessary changes to connect with the diverse culture that is all around us. We are perfectly content with shaping our ministries to reach people just like us. But that is not the heart of God.
Everything changes when we align with God’s heart, when we see people like Jesus sees people. Jesus made it clear that we must have a sense of urgency about this (“they are white already”). The disciples talked like they had plenty of time. It was not a priority for them. But Jesus knew that the time is now! Not the next generation. Not once we get all our ministry ducks in a row. Not when we have figured out all the logistics. Not when we get more people and more money. This is God’s heart already! And it is on us as pastors, churches, and as a Fellowship to align with God’s heart (not vice-versa).
But we can’t do this alone, nor does God intend for us to. In fact, the only way we can truly do God’s will and truly finish God’s work, is if we are committed to working together. God’s heart has always involved cross-cultural vision, but God’s heart also involves:
Diverse Partnerships (vs 36-38)
Jesus wanted the disciples to understand what would be necessary to reach the people groups of the world. So He spoke of diverse roles partnering together, and diverse laborers partnering together.
Again, this was long before the Great Commission, and the book of Acts. This was long before we read of the Macedonian churches doing Faith Promise giving. God’s heart has always involved partnerships. It involves God’s people working “together,” partnering “together,” for a cause that is much bigger than you and me, and much bigger than any one of our churches. In God’s Kingdom, some people are planting, some people are harvesting; some generations go before, some generations come along after, but they are all rejoicing because they are partnering together to do God’s will, to finish God’s work.
1 Corinthians 3:6-9a I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase. So then neither is he that planteth any thing, neither he that watereth; but God that giveth the increase. Now he that planteth and he that watereth are one: and every man shall receive his own reward according to his own labour. For we are labourers together with God.
This is clearly God’s heart for you and for me, and for the World Baptist Fellowship: Christians, pastors and churches partnering together in unity to reach the world with the Gospel.
But I don’t have to tell you that partnerships aren’t always easy or convenient. In fact, it is often easier and simpler for us just to go our separate ways, go it alone, and do things our way, the way we like them, the way we think they should be done. But God’s work is not for Lone Rangers, and it never was supposed to be. That is not the heart of God.
Jesus knew that diverse partnerships would be difficult and challenging, which is why we see Jesus praying and pleading with the Father for cooperation and unity among His people, as they were being sent “into the world”:
John 17:18, 20-21 As thou hast sent me into the world, even so have I also sent them into the world… Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word; that they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me.
Unity does not come naturally. We have to pray for it. We have to fight for it. We have to be intentional about it. We have to be willing to die to ourselves, and remember what it is that unites us as followers and servants of Jesus Christ. What unites us is our faith, our doctrine, the Gospel that we hold to as fundamental Baptists. What unites us is the mission that God has given us to do together. You simply cannot be aligned with the heart of God if you are not committed to diverse partnerships.
The problem arises when we don’t know how to handle our personal convictions, or the personal convictions of others. Even as preachers, we often fail to distinguish between doctrine, personal convictions, and preferences. Doctrine is crystal clear, it is laid out specifically in the Word of God, and is true for every generation, every culture, every nation, every period of history. Personal convictions, however, are important, but are not doctrine (they are not specifically mentioned or commanded in Scripture). Personal convictions are when we take doctrinal truth and biblical principles and apply them in countless different ways in our life, family, culture and ministry. I need to develop personal convictions, based upon God’s Word, and so do you. But mine are probably going to differ from yours, even though we both love God and God’s Word – and that’s okay. Preferences, on the other hand, are not based upon Bible doctrine or biblical principles at all. They are simply a matter of taste, of likes and dislikes, nothing more.
Here’s where the problem comes in (within local churches and within Fellowships of churches): We treat our own personal convictions as if they are doctrine (therefore anyone who doesn’t hold our personal convictions is treated as compromising God’s Word). And then we treat the personal convictions of others as if they are just preferences (with no foundation whatsoever, so we don’t value them or respect them). That approach is caustic to the work of God, and to the partnerships that God has commanded. We end up not doing God’s will and not finishing God’s work.
Paul tells us in Romans 14 that we can be passionate about our personal convictions, but we can still partner with those whose personal convictions are different than ours. However, we must be careful not to resent them or judge them, and realize that they love Jesus and the Bible just as much as we do.
Romans 14:3 Let not him that eateth despise him that eateth not; and let not him which eateth not judge him that eateth: for God hath received him.
But of all that Paul lays out in that amazing chapter, I believe it all culminates in one phrase:
Romans 14:20a For meat destroy not the work of God.
In other words, don’t destroy the work of God by fighting for your personal convictions. It’s not worth it. The collateral damage is too great. Too many souls in our communities and around the world will spend eternity in hell because we placed our personal convictions above our need to partner together with fellow servants of God.
No one should have to give up or compromise their personal convictions in order to partner with others in God’s Kingdom. I shouldn’t have to, and I should expect you to either. Listen: When our personal convictions are more important to us than partnering together to reach the world, I believe we have drifted from God’s heart. God’s heart is all always been about diverse partnerships.
The fields may be white unto harvest in many places, but if are going to reach the cultures and people groups of the world, we desperately need more Christians and churches to partner together.
Matthew 9:37-38 Then saith he unto his disciples, The harvest truly is plenteous, but the labourers are few; pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he will send forth labourers into his harvest.
That is why the World Baptist Fellowship and its mission is so important. It’s not just about renewing friendships, hearing good preaching, and visiting our alma mater. Our proposed WBF Constitution puts it this way:
The purpose of this Fellowship is to further the cause of world evangelism, through the networking and cooperation of autonomous Baptist churches, in planting indigenous Baptist churches across the United States and around the world.
This Fellowship is about aligning with God’s heart, by churches partnering together to do the will of God, and to finish the work of God. That was what fueled the heart of Jesus. That is what must fuel our hearts as well.
Jesus said: “My meat is to do the will of him that sent me, and to finish his work.” When I get to the end of my life and ministry, I don’t want to join Frank Sinatra and sing, “I did it my way.” I want to join Paul the Apostle in saying, “I have finished my course” (2 Timothy 4:7). I want to be able to come to the end of my ministry say like Jesus did, “I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do” (John 17:4).
I don’t know about you, but I want my heart to be aligned with God’s heart. I want the World Baptist Fellowship to be aligned with God’s heart. I want us to be fueled by a cross-cultural vision and a commitment to diverse partnerships. I pray that God gives us a renewed passion for world missions, for church planting, for ethnic diversity, and for our churches to recommit to partnering together at a local, regional and national level.
Preacher, would you come and plead with God to realign your heart with His? To make His will your will? His passion your passion? His perspective your perspective? Are you willing to do that?
Would you ask God for a cross-cultural vision, burden and passion – even in your own community? Would you commit to partnering with fellow servants of God, who, despite certain differences are committed to the same cause, the same message, the same truth, the same Lord? Imagine what God could do through the World Baptist Fellowship in the coming year if we are aligned with the heart of God.
“My meat is to do the will of him that sent me, and to finish his work.” Can you say that as well? Is it your passion? Is it what fuels you and sustains you? Brothers and sisters, let’s ask God to align our hearts tonight, and to light a fire that will burn within us until our final breath, until Jesus calls us home.