Do we still have that sense of urgency and zeal in preaching the gospel to all of the world?
Forty years ago this year I started attending Ambassador College in Bricket Wood, England. In the late summer of 1966 I heard the radio program on radio 270. It was broadcast 7 nights a week at 6:30 P.M. I was the eldest of 6 boys. The house wasn't big enough for me to have any privacy while listening, so I offered to do the dishes every evening so that I could hear the program. I would just lock myself in the kitchen and listen. In August of 1967 the British government closed down the what we call the pirate radio stations and so the program was suddenly taken off the air and my mother never could understand why I suddenly stopped doing the dishes.
I learned many years later that that program cost $200 a night and that was when $200 was a lot of money. All that money was contributed by people in the United States. Some of you may feel it could have been better spent, but I'm grateful that people contributed as they did. So far as I know, I'm the only person who came into the church as a direct result of that particular radio station. It was on air for about 10 months, so the cost to the church was about $60,000 just for one person who came into the church. But I want to take this opportunity to thank you all for those tithes and offerings which led to my calling.
Bricket Wood was also financed from the United States. It was a very nice college, very nice campus. Some of you may have seen it. Today it's actually owned by the bank that I worked for before I came into the church, so had I stayed at the bank I might have landed up there anyway. At Bricket Wood every Sabbath, after Sabbath brunch we had Sabbath signing and each week the final hymn was always the last one in the hymnal at that time, "Go Ye Therefore Into All The World" which is the theme of the general conference this year. It was particularly appropriate for Bricket Wood, as roughly one third of the student body was from the United States and Canada, another third was from Australia and New Zealand and a final third was from the United Kingdom and some other countries in Western Europe
Many of the men who graduated there were sent out to various countries sold by the church at a time when the work was growing in all directions. One thing I particularly appreciated was that because of the geographical location of the college so close to London, whenever some of the men who were on the frontiers of the work at that time, passed through England on their way back to the United States, they would stop, they would visit Bricket Wood and they would speak to us. I remember a particular, often hearing from Bob Fahey who at that time was the Regional Director in Southern Africa and he would come through and inspire us with stories about the developments in the work in that particular region of the world and it was so exciting. I had no idea at that time that a few years later I would be actually be working under him in Southern Africa.
In Mark chapter 16, verse 15, we see the scripture that inspired the hymn, I got it here in the New King James translation of the bible.
Mark 16:15 Mark 16:15And he said to them, Go you into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.
American King James Version×And He said to them, "Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature."
Go you therefore into all the world. We were filled with a desire to do that.
Matthew 24:14 Matthew 24:14And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness to all nations; and then shall the end come.
American King James Version×And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations and then the end will come.
Again, there was that zeal to go do the work, to preach the gospel in all the different nations of the world.
In 1974, two weeks after I graduated, the campus was closed due to financial problems in the United States. It never reopened. Diane had gone home for the summer and had to finish college in Pasadena so I took the opportunity to go to Africa. I got a one-way ticket. I flew out to Rhodesia where I took a job out in the bush working with 40,000 members of the Matabele tribe in Matabeleland in what is now Zimbabwe. At the time it was Rhodesia. The nearest congregation was (Undistinguishable), 30 miles away. A small bible study group met there once a month. The congregation was growing and soon we had a weekly Sabbath service there. By this time I was married so it was really good to have that fellowship each week. At that time Rhodesia was in the midst of a civil war, gas was rationed and we did not have the gas to get to the bible study or services unless during the week we walked everywhere. So we walked everywhere where we lived just so that we would have the gas on the Sabbath to get into town and attend the service. We did that all the time when we lived there.
Again all of the people in the church at Rhodesia were a direct result of the tithes and offerings of the people of the United States. I'd forgotten at what point we were able to do this but at some time we were able to get the radio program on there as well. I do remember it was on a Sunday evening just after 10 P. M. So we would stay up and listen to that each week. Again, all paid for by the tithes and offerings that people in the United States gave to the church for the work to be done around the world.
Eventually, we were hired by the church and a year later we were asked to move to Ghana which was very, very different from Rhodesia. When we arrived in May 1978 in Ghana there were 55 people at the first service in Accra, the capitol. A few weeks later we were in Kumasi the second biggest city where they had if I remember correctly 25 people in attendance, so a total of about 80 people were in the church in 1978. By the time we completed our first assignment of 5 years in Ghana, there were 600 people attending every week in the country of Ghana. We went back there 5 years later and the church had grown even more. By this time there were 3 congregations. The church was constantly growing.
Most of the people who came into the church had their first contact as a direct result of the British Reader's Digest. I remember talking to Mr. Armstrong at one point about the church in West Africa and he mentioned how when the advertisements started in the Reader's Digest in England, nobody had any idea that the magazine was also sold in West Africa. So the church in West Africa actually began by accident, not by design. Gradually more and more people were responding to those ads. One thing you'll learn when you travel to these places in Africa is that people never throw anything away so those Reader's Digest even now I'm sure, still turn up where the ads are in the magazine. Within years you would get responses from the ads in the magazine.
I was soon also involved in Nigeria, Cameroon, and Liberia. Part of Cameroon speaks English, most of them speak French. I would go over there to speak to the English language group there. There were 3 other countries in West Africa. In every country, God was calling people. It was a real exciting time to be working in that particular part of the world. The ads, the literature, my salary and travel costs all came out of the tithes and offerings that people contributed in the United States. The subsidy wasn't very big, a small amount of money goes a long way in Africa. To illustrate that point I'll tell you a couple stories from my trip that came to an end just last week.
One of my purposes of this particular trip was to find a new feast site because we didn't have one for this year. Two of the pastors had found what they thought was a suitable Feast site, up in the hills about 4 hours drive away from Accra in a place called Mpraeso. We got there to have a look at it. It was a school, it had dormitory facilities and the plan was, all the men could sleep in one dormitory for all the 8 nights of the Feast and all the women with the children would sleep in the other dormitory. Now I know this may sound strange, but this is very much the custom in Ghana and I said for years, you know I think it would be better if we had family units, but when we did have family units last year, people were not very happy. I guess they missed the break from their wives. So, this particular time they were very happy to have this dormitory facility.
The college wanted one seating a night per person. A seating is about $.70. In addition to charging that we also had to rent mattresses for all the beds. The mattresses were available in the town for 50 pesos a night which is about $.35. So for a little over $1.00 a night, we are able to provide the Feast for all the members in Accra, in fact for all the members in Ghana I should say. In fact the total cost of the Feast accommodations will be less than $5,000 for 600 people. In addition, we also subsidized their transport but they take care of their own food during the Feast of Tabernacles. I should mention most of our members are subsistence farmers, they are very, very poor. They may only earn in a year maybe 20 cedi's about $14.00 in a year simply because they are subsistence farmers. We do have a few who are a little bit better off, but most people are very poor so we have to help them to be able to keep the Feast and the Feast is the highlight for them.
When I saw these accommodations and it's not the standard that I've been used to and I also realize it's not the standard that Tom Clark and Mary are used to. Tom and Mary are going there for the Feast this year, so I thought I'd better take the time to try and find something that would be more suitable for visitors from the United States. There was a hotel across the road from this particular school. We walked across to the hotel, in fact we walked all the way through the hotel and I soon realized that nobody was staying in this hotel which is a bad sign. When we went out the back of the hotel, I saw a restaurant and went over there, it was closed. I was told the chef had left two months earlier which was another bad sign. When I saw that the bar was also closed and had absolutely no drinks available, I realized that Tom could never handle that. So it became absolutely essential to find another place. We were told of another hotel, not too far away called the Madox Royal Hotel. So we went in search of this hotel, about 10 miles away. We must have missed our turn and we were going along this very hilly road and suddenly the car started sending up smoke signals from the engine and we pulled over and it needed water and the only water available was my bottle of drinking water which had cost me l cedi, $.17 and that's what saved us and enabled us to get on the road again. So if you think that your widow's mite doesn't accomplish much, $.17 got us out of that mess and back on the road.
Then we did find a hotel suitable for foreign visitors. In fact they offered chalets' as they call them in West Africa, Chalets' for only $40.00 a night, not $39.00 a night which is quite cheap. They were very nice accommodations; a king size bed, it had a kitchen, it had a separate bathroom and also had satellite television, internet high-speed internet access, a refrigerator, it seemed to have everything. I'm not sure if it had electricity, I forgot to check, but it did have all those other things. So I let Tom know and hopefully, he and Mary will be happy there. But a small amount of money makes a big difference. We can help all those people keep the Feast for about $5,000 this year and I was delighted with that.
The church in Ghana continues to grow. Our emphasis on preaching the gospel is increasing on radio. Some of our pastors have the wrong radio programs. The cost is about 10 cedi's, per week, about $7.00 a week, that's all. They ask me for the money but I've been encouraging greater self-reliance, reminding them that we have financial problems over here. So each congregation is trying to raise the money themselves. I was asked to be on one of their radio programs and I had to be ready at 5:30 on a Sabbath morning. I was being picked up at 5:30. The program is on the air at 6. They told me to be ready. I came out dressed just in casual clothes and they stood there and they said, you're not ready. I said I am ready. They said no you're not, you must wear a suit. I said a suit, for radio? They said yes, you must wear a suit to be on the radio. I am still trying to figure that one out, but it's one of those culture differences, sometimes it's better not to ask because you won't understand when they give you the answer anyway. So I had to go back and change and wear a suit just to be on the radio.
You know it's rather ironic, but in a country where time is largely meaningless, the pastors have a sense of urgency when it comes to preaching the gospel. Africa is the only continent in the world where the number of people claiming to follow Jesus Christ is actually growing. Most of that growth is in the Pentecostal movement. You see people with bibles all over and they're often reading them. There's a keen interest in the scriptures. It is also the only continent by the way where a significant number of Moslems are changing religions. They're becoming Christians at the various churches, especially the Pentecostal churches. On every other continent, Islam is the fastest growing religion. It is the fastest growing religion in North America, particularly here in the United States. But our men have a sense of urgency. We see a sense of urgency throughout the scriptures.
In Isaiah chapter 58 for example, looking at the Old Testament.
Isaiah 58:1 Isaiah 58:1Cry aloud, spare not, lift up your voice like a trumpet, and show my people their transgression, and the house of Jacob their sins.
American King James Version×"Cry aloud, spare not; lift up your voice like a trumpet; tell my people their transgression and the house of Jacob their sins."
This conveys a sense of urgency. Moving into the New Testament you see that John the Baptist had a sense of urgency as well.
Matthew 3: 1 & 2 In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea and saying: "Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand"
In Mark chapter 1, again we see Jesus Christ conveying a sense of urgency.
Mark 1: 14 & 15 Now after John was put in prison, Jesus came to Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God and saying, "The time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe in the gospel."
Now Jesus Christ knew that the kingdom was not going to be established in His lifetime so what did He mean by this? The tone at hand here probably refers to the individual; that each person alive at that time had his three score years and ten, not a very long time to work out your own salvation. So there was an urgent message to get to people and help them to repent, to point out the need for repentance and the need to keep the laws of God.
In Acts chapter 2 we see that the apostles, after the crucifixion and the resurrection also had a sense of urgency. Peter said to the great crowd that he had just spoken to:
Acts 2:38 Acts 2:38Then Peter said to them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.
American King James Version×"Repent and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
Verse 39: For the promise is to you and to your children and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call."
Verse 40: And with many other words he testified and exhorted them saying: "Be saved from this perverse generation."
Verse 41: Then those who gladly received his word were baptized and that day about 3,000 souls were added to them.
So a sense of urgency is conveyed in these words. The prophets, John the Baptist, Jesus Christ and the apostles all had a sense of urgency. My sense is that we have lost that sense of urgency that we used to have. In the last 20 years, we've been preoccupied with internal problems. At first doctrinal issues, but in the last 15 often over other issues; administrative or governmental issues. We need to get back our sense of urgency. The excitement that we had back at Bricket Wood 40 years ago, but I'm sure over here too, the desire to preach the gospel around the world, to go you therefore into all nations. Whether Jesus Christ returns in 10 years or not is speculative. What is certain, however, is that most of us in this room only have 10 years left to make a difference when it comes to preaching the gospel to this world.
The international work has always depended on the United States. That is not going to change. What would happen if the United States was no longer able to finance the work, either here or overseas? This is a great concern that people have in some of the foreign areas, the international areas in which the church has operations. They have very concerns about the state of the American economy and wonder how it might impact them. During the years that we lived in Ghana, I know from experience that whenever there are financial problems over here, it always impacted us in Ghana. Before Ghana or when we lived in Rhodesia, it impacted there as well.
In Amos chapter 8 we see a prophecy which I often think about, it's quite a disturbing one. It's one that should give us food for thought.
Amos 8:11 Amos 8:11Behold, the days come, said the Lord GOD, that I will send a famine in the land, not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the LORD:
American King James Version×"Behold the days are coming," says the Lord God, "that I will send a famine on the land' not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord.
Verse 12: They shall wander from sea to sea, and from north to east; they shall run to and fro seeking the word of the Lord, but shall not find it."
It's disturbing because it shows the time is coming when the central operation of the church may cease to exist. Perhaps the reason for that is because the United States as a nation has suffered some major financial setback or calamity and we're not able to preach the gospel anymore in the rest of the world or even here in the United States.
There's plenty of secular voices warning about our perilous financial state. Neil Ferguson who's my favorite historian warned in the March/April Foreign Affairs magazine that the U.S. could go very quickly. It's a very good article if you can get a hold of a copy. Paul Kennedy who teaches at Yale (Neil Ferguson teaches at Harvard) wrote a book in 1987 called "The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers" and he looked back at the preeminent powers of the last 500 years and showed there were certain commonalities in the way that they rose to greatness and the way that they also fell. When you read his book you can see that we are in those final stages described by Paul Kennedy when he talked about those other nations. Paul Kennedy said recently when asked about what his prediction was for the U.S. economy, he said "I fear total collapse." A student at Yale wrote and told me his history professor gave a lecture two or three weeks ago that said similar to what I wrote in the January Good News magazine when I wrote an article showing how the British empire after World War II collapsed because it lost its financial wealth, it lost its power base so to speak financially, as a result of which the empire collapsed and you can see how the United States is pretty much at the same point now that Britain was at in 1946 or 1947. This professor at Yale gave a class on this, even I believe quoting from the same book that I quoted from, "Picking Up the Reigns" by Norman Moss.
The international issue of Time magazine, the April 19th issue that I picked up in Ghana, included a long article on China and this one paragraph was in there. To many in Beijing, the United States looks weak. Chinese intellectuals often pair 9/11 with 9/14 which was exactly 7 years later, the 14th of September, 2008, the day the news broke that Lehman Brothers 2008 collapse. The Chinese intellectuals see these as milestones of Western decline. They just believe it's only a matter of time before they take over as the world's preeminent power.
The United States now pays $548 million dollars per day in interest. By 2020 it will be 2.4 billion dollars a day interest on our debt. Our total debt by 2020 will be 20 trillion dollars which is 6.7 million dollars per person. Every single American effectively will owe 6.7 million dollars to other nations. That will be our debt by the year 2020. That means a massive increase in taxes at the very least in order to pay that off. The news that has been dominated the past few days by the crisis in Greece raises a nation that is teetering on the edge of a total financial collapse. It's not the only country in Europe that is, there are actually 5 countries in the Eurozone that are teetering on the brink; Portugal, Italy, Ireland, Greece and Spain. Collectively they're known as the PIIGS. It's not very nice but they even call themselves that. What is often not realized is that at least 3 American states are in a worse state then Greece is; California, New Jersey, and New York are in a worse state than Greece is.
So how long is it going to be before some of our states are collapsing just like some of these countries in Europe are. We're living in a very disturbing time and you realize as Neil Ferguson shows in his article how quickly things can change and his article shows when the United States goes, it will go quickly.
Even the volcano a couple of weeks ago showed the unexpected can almost make a big difference. Now as a senior pastoring Ghana I'm trying to prepare for the possibility that the money may not be there to help Ghana in the years to come, so it's good advice to the Ghana people and others to strive to greater self-sufficiency, but the reality is that if the U.S. economy goes, the work will largely be over. It's sobering but true. The opposite of a sense of urgency is described in a warning from Jesus Christ in Matthew 24. Let's turn there for a moment. It's the opposite of a sense of urgency.
Matthew 24: 44 "Therefore you also be ready for the Son of Man is coming at an hour when you do not expect Him.
Verse 45: Who then is a faithful and wise servant whom his master made ruler over his household, to give them food in due season?
Verse 46: Blessed is that servant whom his master when he comes, will find so doing."
You know He wants us to continue to do the work that He called us to do, as long as we can do it.
Verse 47: "Assuredly I say to you that he will make him ruler over all his goods,
Verse 48: But if that evil servant says in his heart 'My master is delaying his coming,"
My Lord delays His coming is a more familiar wording of that particular verse.
Verse 49: and begins to beat his fellow servants and to eat and drink with the drunkards,
Verse 50: the master of that servant will come on a day when he is not looking for him and at an hour that he is not aware of,
Verse 51: and will cut him in two and appoint him his portion with the hypocrites."
Now that's a disturbing passage there, but what it shows is, if we have an attitude that my Lord delays His coming, that Jesus Christ is not returning soon, but the kingdom will not be established soon, so we kind of lie back and we just start bickering and fighting amongst ourselves and eat and drink with the drunkards. I wonder if that doesn't tie in with Revelation 3, verse 17, a message to the Laodiceans where it warns about how the Laodiceans are lukewarm, rich and increased with goods and in need of nothing. You know that the pursuit of material things can easily come between us and God. I think we've all learned the folly of material pursuits. My house has lost 35% of its value in 3 years.
En route to Ghana I read a book that somebody loaned me, I don't read novels very often, but this particular person recommended this book, it's called "One Second After" by William Forstchen. It's quite credible, it's quite possible, it's about what would happen to America if suddenly none of the electronics worked. Our enemies apparently know how to do this. They can do this to us at any time. If all the other tries suddenly cease to work, everything would collapse. We would go back 200 years, but the difference is, whereas 200 years ago people knew how to cope without all the electronic gadgets, today most people wouldn't have an idea. A very good book and I highly recommend it, if you have any time to read it.
Look at Matthew chapter 6. We can still spend a lot of our time, much of our effort in material pursuits if we want to, ultimately, of course, we can't take it with us, but the fact is at some point this whole system, this country, everything is just going to fall apart around us.
Matthew 6:19 Matthew 6:19Lay not up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust does corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal:
American King James Version×"Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal;
Verse 20: but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal;
Verse 21: For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."
Now if our mind is on material things all the time and the jubilation of greater wealth it's going to affect our spirituality, the future that we should have is for the Kingdom of God, as it says in verse 33 of this same chapter.
Verse 33: "But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things shall be added to you."
The physical things that we need, maybe not the things we want, the things we need will be added to us.
We need to have that zeal again that we once had for preaching the gospel to the world.
John 6:38 John 6:38For I came down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of him that sent me.
American King James Version×"For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me."
That should be our priority as well; to do the will of Him who called us, called us into this church, gave us the knowledge and understanding that we have.
In Isaiah chapter 55 and while you turn there I'll tell you another story.
Last year one of my nephews asked if he could go with me to Ghana. He's in the Royal Air Force and will soon be going out to Afghanistan. My brothers and my nephews have had no religious instruction in their lives. I don't think anyone of them has a bible. But my nephew came and from the moment he came with me he started asking me questions about our beliefs. He was very enthusiastic. We looked through the bible and he got more familiar with the bible. Like I said I don't think he ever read it before, but he became quite familiar and he was looking at different things in the bible and he was getting really, really enthused. It turns out he's dating a girl who is the same age as him, who comes from a Mormon background. One thing he was trying to do was to see which church is closest to the bible. He came to the conclusion that we were much more bible based. In fact he actually asked the question, is there any other church that bases its beliefs on the bible as much as you do? I said I don't believe there is and if there were I would be there. So that helped him to see things more clearly. He now gets our magazine, but the disappointing thing is that whereas his girlfriend's church has a church right there in my hometown, we don't and that makes it much more difficult for him. In fact it's quite a drive for him to go to a church of the United Church of God and in England right now with the recession on and the average income where I come from is about $16,000 a year, that's all, it would be very difficult for him to be able to go and my dream is that at some point we will have a church in my hometown. There's never been one in the last 40 years since I came into the church. But any growth is going to depend to a great extent on the tithes and offerings that people give here in the United States.
Isaiah 55:10 Isaiah 55:10For as the rain comes down, and the snow from heaven, and returns not thither, but waters the earth, and makes it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower, and bread to the eater:
American King James Version×For as the rain comes down and the snow from heaven, and do not return there, but water the earth and make it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
Verse 11: So shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth; it shall not return to Me void, but it shall accomplish what I please and it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it.
You know we don't know when we give tithes and offerings for the preaching of the gospel, we do not know what the money is going to accomplish and I was the only person that I know of that was ever called as a result of that radio program on radio 270 that was on the radio for almost a year at a great expense and we just don't know what's going to happen anywhere. I've seen the church growing in Ghana and it's wonderful to see that. I know there were some new people when I was there last week. There were 3 new young men, they were very enthused, they were asking so many different questions, I never even had the time to ask them how they first came into contact with the church. How did they know about it? I did ask somebody on a previous visit; I know some see our web site and they are very impressed by it, but I did read recently that only 7% of the people in Africa have access to the internet. So we can't reach everybody with the internet. Radio is I think the best way to reach people in West Africa. A lot of people can't read English so the Good News may not be as effective as it is certainly in other parts of the world, but if we do our part, if we give generously and also pray fervently and have our minds focused on the work as it was at one time preaching the gospel to the world. If we keep that in mind, then God will give us the increase in those areas, even poor people. So once again, we need to sing just as fervently as we did 40 years ago, "Go Ye Therefore Into All The World."