How will ‘Reach500’ capture our imagination and energy this year? God might ‘switch you on’ to the urgency of reaching 500 people with the message of Jesus in any number of ways, but one way that is guaranteed, is for us to remind ourselves of where the ‘good news’ of Jesus begins. Although it may come as a bit of a surprise, the gospel begins with some very bad news. It gives us an uncomfortable insight into this world, ourselves and God. Regarding the world, John says that all the desires and priorities of this world don’t come from God the Father. Therefore, the world and its desires will soon be destroyed. (1 John 2:16-17).
However, the gospel goes on to say that the trouble of this world is also a crisis for every individual. In Philippians Ch 3 Paul says that those who live as enemies of the cross of Christ have their mind set on this world only. As a result, ‘their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach and their glory is in their shame.’ (Phil 3:19). This quite rightly provokes the justice and judgment of God. So much so, that in Ephesians Ch 2 Paul explains that before we have been saved by grace, ‘we were by nature, deserving of God’s wrath.’ (Eph 2:3) The longer we ignore the starting point of the good news, the more it will sap the urgency out of making new disciples for Christ. ‘We so easily settle into a comfortable week by week church existence, where we are happy to be together and to help each other grow as disciples of Christ, and to be frank, are reasonably content with the world around us going to hell in a hand basket. We stop appreciating how deep is the prevailing darkness, how lost and blind are our neighbours and friends and community, and how desperate and sad is the plight of the millions who remain in darkness.’
William Booth’s famous (and shocking) ‘A Vision of the Lost’ springs to mind.
“I saw a dark and stormy ocean. Over it the black clouds hung heavily; through them every now and then vivid winds moaned, and the waves rose and foamed, towered and broke, only to rise and foam, tower and break again. In that ocean I thought I saw myriads of poor human beings plunging and floating, shouting and shrieking, cursing and struggling and drowning; and as they cursed and screamed they rose and shrieked again, and then some sank to rise no more.
And I saw out of this dark angry ocean, a mighty rock that rose up with its summit towering high above the black clouds that overhung the stormy sea. And all around the base of this great rock I saw a vast platform. Onto this platform, I saw with delight a number of the poor struggling, drowning wretched continually climbing out of the angry ocean. And I saw that a few of those who were already safe on the platform were helping the poor creatures still in the angry waters to reach the place of safety.
On looking more closely I found a number of those who had been rescued, industriously working and scheming by ladders, ropes, boats and other means more effective, to deliver the poor strugglers out of the sea. Here and there were some who actually jumped into the water, regardless of the consequences in their passion to “rescue the perishing”. And I hardly know which gladdened me the most – the sight of the poor drowning people climbing onto the rocks reaching a place of safety, or the devotion and self-sacrifice of those whose whole being was wrapped up in the effort for their deliverance. As I looked on, I saw that the occupants of that platform were quite a mixed company. That is, they were divided into a different “sets” or classes, and they occupied themselves with different pleasures and employments. But only a very few of them seemed to make it their business to get the people out of the sea.
But what puzzled me most was the fact that though all of them had been rescued at one time or another from the ocean, nearly everyone seemed to have forgotten all about it. Anyway, it seemed the memory of its darkness and danger no longer troubled them at all. And what seemed equally strange and perplexing to me was that these people did not even seem to have any care – that is any agonizing care – about the poor perishing ones who were struggling and drowning right before their very eyes… many of whom were their own husbands and wives, brothers and sisters and even their own children.” 12
A Vision of the Lost – written by Scott Tubman. Original article can be found here.
12 The full text of William Booth’s A Vison of the Lost is available online here https://salvationarmy.org.au/Global/State%20pages/Victoria/Crossroads/Spiritual%20Care/vision%204%20lost.pdf