From Oak Park to the Ends of the Earth: God's Plan for Calvary Memorial Church
Acts 1:8"But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth." Acts 1:8
Last week we talked about the first half of this verse. At the end of the sermon I asked each person to do two things: 1) Pray that God would give you a chance to witness for Christ this week, and 2) Commit yourself to taking that opportunity when God answered your prayer. I’ve already heard from several of you how God used you to share Christ in some unique situations this week. Even though this is the beginning of the sermon and not the end, I’d like to encourage you to pray that same prayer again this week. Remember, I’m not asking you to create a situation or to open a door that God isn’t opening. I’m simply asking you to cooperate with the Holy Spirit in telling others about Jesus. It’s his job to open the doors for witnessing, it’s our job to go through the doors he opens.
This week we come to the second half of Acts 1:8. The first half tells us what to do—Be Witnesses for Christ. The second half tells us where to do it—in Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. If the first half gives us God’s job description for every Christian, the second half gives us God’s plan for every local church.
Acts 1:8 is an important verse for many reasons. For one thing, it offers us a convenient outline for the Book of Acts. Luke uses three successive phrases to describe the spread of the gospel in the first few decades of the Christian church. These phrases fit nicely into the overall plan of this book.
Beginning in Jerusalem—Acts 1-7
Judea and Samaria—Acts 8-12
Ends of the Earth—Acts 13-28
This verse contains the last recorded words of Jesus. As far as we know, these are the final words Jesus spoke before he ascended into heaven. They demand our close attention since they tell us what was on the Savior’s heart just before he left this earth.
Acts 1:8 gives us God’s plan for the entire Christian church. It also tells us God’s plan for Calvary Memorial Church. From this verse we learn what we are to do and where we are to do it.
The year was 1915. In a suburb of Chicago called Oak Park, believers from five local congregations met to form a new church, one that would be independent of all denominational control. They held their first Sunday service on March 21, 1915—83 years ago yesterday. If you go back and read the founding documents, it’s clear that they wanted a church that would do three things:
1. Teach and preach the Bible.
2. Win the lost.
3. Send missionaries around the world.
Much has changed over the last 83 years. Back then the church was called the Madison Street Church; today you know it as Calvary Memorial Church. In the beginning a tiny handful of people met together; today over 1000 people worship here every Sunday. Our founders had nothing but a dream and great faith in God; today we have beautiful buildings, a large staff, wonderful programs, and a worldwide outreach. The differences do not matter as much as the similarities. We still believe what the founders believed and we still exist to do those three things.
Let’s take a closer look at the second half of Acts 1:8 and see what it says to us in 1998. I believe this verse offers a three-fold plan of outreach that, if followed, will produce a healthy church with a dynamic impact on the world.
I. Start Where You Are—In Jerusalem
Jesus told his disciples that they would be witnesses first in Jerusalem. Why start in Jerusalem? For one thing, it was the logical place to start. That’s where they already were. Second, in some respects it was the easiest place to begin. The people of Jerusalem already knew about Jesus and some had expressed a sincere interest in his ministry. This meant there were fewer barriers to cross. Then there was the credibility issue. How could they witness for Christ in other countries if they hadn’t made converts on their home turf? If the gospel doesn’t work where you are, how can you be sure it will work anywhere else? True religion begins at home. If it doesn’t begin there, it won’t begin anywhere else. No doubt questions of strategy were also involved. The early disciples numbered 120. By starting in Jerusalem they could build their base, then expand elsewhere. Finally, Jerusalem represented a vast spiritual darkness that needed the light of the gospel. Just a few weeks earlier this city had rejected our Lord and put him to death. The city Jesus loved did not love him back. This is where the disciples must begin the work of spreading the gospel.
It’s not hard to see how this applies to us. Oak Park is our Jerusalem. God put us here 83 years ago and commissioned us to hold forth the word of life. We have our own strategic reasons for staying here. If you look at a map of America, Chicago dominates the middle of the country. Look at a map of metropolitan Chicago and you’ll discover that Oak Park is right in the center of the metropolitan area. Then find a map of Oak Park and look at the two main streets—Oak Park Avenue and Harlem Avenue. Then look at Lake Street. One church sits in the middle of Oak Park—Calvary Memorial Church. What a fantastic opportunity we have—in the center of Oak Park, in the middle of greater Chicago, in the heart of America. This is our Jerusalem—we have to start here.
I know that some of you were dismayed at the results of the election last Tuesday when the supporters of Gay Rights won by a narrow margin of 230 votes. They outspent us approximately 10-1 and still barely squeaked out a victory. Don’t be dismayed. Remember that we prayed for God’s will to be done, and we believe that prayer has been answered. No doubt we would be happier if the results had gone the other way. But it was not to be. Don’t you think Almighty God could round up 230 extra votes if he wanted to? This is Chicago. No one would have blinked an eye if 230 votes had materialized out of thin air. The God who spoke the galaxies into existence could easily have created 230 more votes if that had been his plan. Therefore, we rest content knowing that we did our best, and knowing that no election can save this village. Only the gospel can change the human heart.
Jesus said to begin in Jerusalem. Where are you right now? In a dorm room? That’s your Jerusalem. In a classroom? That’s your Jerusalem. Living in a neighborhood? That’s your Jerusalem. Attending the Rotary Club or the YMCA? That’s your Jerusalem. Do you attend a public school? Do you work in an office downtown? Do you work in a factory or in a store or in a hospital? That’s your Jerusalem. Do you make sales calls? Those prospects comprise your Jerusalem. Do you have family and relatives who need the Lord? They are also part of your Jerusalem.
Start where you are. That’s your Jerusalem. Write down the names of three people you’d like to see come to Christ this year. Then keep that list somewhere nearby and pray over that list every day, asking God to enable you to be a witness for Christ to them.
This week I ran across a report called “One Day in the Lives of America’s Children.” Here is a part of that report: Every day in the USA:
· 2,995 teens get pregnant
· 372 teens miscarry
· 1,106 teens have abortions
· 1,295 teens give birth
· 27 children die from poverty
· 10 children are killed by guns
· 30 children are wounded by guns
· 6 teenagers commit suicide
· 135,000 children bring a gun to school
· 7,742 teenagers become sexually active
· 625 teenagers get syphilis or gonorrhea
· 211 children are arrested for drug abuse
· 437 children are arrested for drinking or for drunken driving
· 1,512 teens drop out of school
· 1,849 children are abused or neglected
· 3,288 children run away from home
· 1,629 children are in adult jails
· 2,556 children are born out of wedlock
· 2,989 children see their parents divorced
Start where you are! The gospel is like a fire. It can’t spread to the horizon until it burns brightly in the center. Unless our love blazes in our Jerusalem, how will it ever set fire to a distant continent?
II. Cross Cultural Boundaries—Judea and Samaria
After mentioning Jerusalem Jesus called his disciples to go into “Judea and Samaria.” Judea was the Roman province surrounding Jerusalem and was overwhelmingly Jewish. But Samaria was another matter entirely. Centuries of distrust had created enormous animosity between Jews and Samaritans. The Samaritans came into existence hundreds of years earlier when Jews intermarried with Assyrians and other non-Jewish peoples. Over the generations they developed their own religion with their own version of the Old Testament, a separate language (Aramaic), and a separate capital and holy site (Mount Gerizim). The Jews hated the Samaritans and considered them corrupted half-breeds. The Samaritans gladly returned the favor. In Jesus’ day good Jews wouldn’t even set foot on Samaritan soil lest their feet be polluted. Therefore, it must have been a shock when Jesus instructed the early disciples to be witnesses in Samaria. The very thought went against everything they had been raised to believe.
In Acts 1:8 Jesus challenges his people to take the gospel across racial, ethnic and cultural boundaries. That meant setting aside long-held prejudices and moving out of their comfort zones.
We face the same challenge in Oak Park today. All around we see evidence of demographic change. This isn’t the all-white village it used to be 50 years ago. Today Chicago has become a melting pot of many nationalities and many ethnic groups. All the suburbs are changing—including Oak Park, River Forest, Forest Park, Berwyn, and Cicero. But our prejudices remain, don’t they? I have heard people say, “If you come to Oak Park and exit on Austin Boulevard, make sure as you go north that you turn left and not right. After all, you wouldn’t want to get shot.” (For those who don’t know what I mean, by turning left you enter Oak Park and by turning right you enter the Austin community of Chicago, which is mostly black.)
I realize that it’s hard to talk about these things, but at some point they must be faced if we are going to fulfill the divine mandate to cross cultural boundaries. How will we do it? As I see it, going to Samaria will require five special qualities:
1. Courage (because it’s not easy to step across a boundary)
2. Persistence (because you won’t necessarily be successful every time)
3. Wisdom (including creativity and tact)
4. Intentionality (a word I learned from Raleigh Washington and Glen Kehrein in their book Breaking Down Walls)
5. Humility (having the servant spirit of Jesus Christ)
What I’m talking about won’t be done in a day or a week or a month or a year. But it can and must be done if we are to obey the call of Jesus to this church.
The World Has Come to Chicago
For those who take Jesus’ words seriously, I have some good news. We no longer have to worry so much about going to the world. The world has come to us. Chicago has become a world-class city and a melting pot of diverse cultures. Several years ago I ran across some startling statistics that put this into perspective: Greater Chicago has over 8 million people. That is more people than Idaho, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Wyoming, Nebraska, Nevada, Utah, and Alaska combined. Chicago has a larger population than 42 states and 100 foreign countries. There are currently 20 Buddhist temples and 75 mosques in Chicago. Every nationality and every language is represented here. There are 36 newspapers published in foreign languages. Greater Chicago is home to: 1.25 million African-Americans, 1 million Hispanics, 500,000 Poles, 250,000 Greeks, 200,000 Ukrainians, 150,000 people from India, 100,000 Filipinos, 90,000 Koreans, 50,000 Romanians, 50,000 Hungarians, 25,000 Haitians, 20,000 Chinese, and 15,000 from various Southern Asian countries. Ships from 24 nations dock in Chicago. Over 9 million people visit Chicago each year as tourists or business visitors.
Finally, Chicago boasts the world’s largest commercial building, tallest apartment building, the nation’s largest hotel, the world’s tallest bank, the largest post office, and the tallest building (we don’t care what they say in Malaysia—we say the Sears Tower is still the tallest). We also have the Cubs, the White Sox, the Blackhawks and Michael Jordan. This is truly one of the great cities of the world. Shouldn’t we also have a world-class missionary effort to reach these vast multitudes with the Gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ?
III. Include Every Nation—the Ends of the Earth
Now we come to the third step in God’s plan for Calvary Memorial Church. We are to be witnesses “to the ends of the earth.” I checked the word “ends” in the Greek and discovered that Luke used the word eschatou, from which we get the English word eschatology—the doctrine of the Last Things. When Luke uses the word in Acts 1:8, it refers to the extremities of the earth. The expression “the four corners” of the earth catches the flavor. It means that we must take the gospel to every nook and cranny of the globe. We must venture into the farthest, remotest regions in the most distant lands in order to share Christ with everyone we meet. The task will not be done until there is a worshipping band of believers in every identifiable people group.
If we take that literally, it will mean traveling great distances, overcoming large difficulties, making an enormous sacrifice, and facing strong opposition. You can’t expect to get off the plane and find a committee of lost people with a sign reading, “Welcome Missionaries. Please lead us to Christ.” It doesn’t happen that way.
Let me list several implications if we are going to include every nation on our agenda. First, this task will require the cooperation of many people. No one person can reach every extremity or go to every corner of the globe. One person can go to one place and someone else will have to go somewhere else. It’s going to take many people going many places doing many things. Some will preach, others will write music in local languages, others will teach children, and still others will work behind the scenes keeping the radio equipment in good shape and maintaining the airplanes that fly missionaries from place to place.
Second, it won’t be done easily, quickly or cheaply. This will require sustained effort, lots of money, and years of preparation, planning and prayer. Third, someone will have to step forward if this command is to be obeyed. We can’t all stay in America if we’re going to go to the ends of the earth. Someone will have to stand up and say, “Here am I. Send me.” We can’t all cocoon at 931 Lake Street in Oak Park. Someone will have to go to Raxaul, India - to Barcelona, Spain - to Mannheim, Germany - to Mexico City - to Jos, Nigeria - to Conakry, Guinea - and to dozens of other spots around the world.
Fourth, the people of the world will never understand our commitment–and worldly Christians won’t understand either. People outside the church will ask why our missionaries are throwing their lives away in remote corners of the world. And inside the church carnal Christians will whisper—What a waste it is that our finest young people give up the good life in America. There’s nothing we can do about it except to pray that God would open their eyes to see the world as he sees it.
Finally, going to the ends of the earth requires intense commitment over a long period of time. I’m very grateful that Calvary has always had a strong missions program. We started giving to world missions as soon as the church started in 1915. If you look at the pictures of the missionaries in the lobby, you can see some people we’ve been supporting for 20, 30, 40, and even 50 years. I think of Fred Stettler who graduated from Moody Bible Institute in 1925. We supported him for 67 years until his death in 1993. This week I spoke with one of my heroes—Miss Eva Lodgaard of the Scripture Memory Mountain Mission. She came to Calvary in the 1930s when Pastor Fardon was here. During the early 40s she attended the Go Ye Prayer Fellowship. That group disbanded when God called every one of them to the mission field. In 1945 we sent her out to Kentucky with a pledge of a few dollars each month. In the early years she rode on horseback up in the Appalachian Mountains, telling children about Jesus. She’s 81 now, and still serves the Lord at Camp Nathanael. I’m going to be with her in July when I preach at the Rock Fork Sunday School not far from Emmalena, Kentucky. She’s still going strong for Jesus after all these years. That’s the kind of dedication it takes to go to the ends of the earth.
I’ve been to a few extremities myself. Pignon, Haiti and Raxaul, India immediately come to mind. Today we’re sending off Tom and April Drost and their two children to Guinea, West Africa to work with New Tribes Mission. Within 72 hours they will be thousands of miles from Oak Park—in a country that few Americans know about and fewer still have visited. They’re going to help bring the gospel to tribes that have never heard about Jesus. They are the latest in a long line of Calvary people who have answered the call to go to the ends of the earth.
This Friday at 4:00 a.m., 41 Allied Force high school students and leaders leave for a Spring Break missions trip to Reynosa, Mexico. They’re going to work with Pastor Zavala doing some construction on his church and also doing puppet shows and mimes for the neighborhood children. At the same time we’re sending a second team of high school students to inner city Chicago to work with Breakthrough Ministries. They’re going to minister to homeless people and latchkey children through music, youth ministry, and service projects.
If you wonder about the connection between the Drosts and our high schoolers, here it is. You send your high schoolers to Mexico and they come back wanting to go to Guinea. Once young people get a taste of cross-cultural missions, they never look at the world the same way again. Years later they volunteer for the Philippines, Nepal, Brazil, Hong Kong, and Egypt.
A New Generation
I’d like to close with a word of personal testimony. When I came to Calvary in 1989, the Lord led me to begin praying for a new generation of missionaries and a new generation of missionary supporters. We had a wonderful program but the bulk of its support came from people over the age of 50. It’s taken us many years but we now have many missionaries under the age of 45. I can also say that our Missions Committee is now led by those 40 and under. That gives me great hope for the future.
As we entered 1998 I began praying for five new families or singles to volunteer for missionary service this year. My faith was too small. I’m told that we now have 10 new families or individuals from our congregation that have expressed a serious interest in missionary service. May the Lord increase that number to 20, 30, 50, or even to 100.
This is a year of outreach at Calvary and Acts 1:8 is our theme verse. This is God’s plan for us.
Start where you are—There are people only you can reach.
Cross cultural boundaries—Take a step this week.
Include every nation—Send, Pray, Give, Go!
God raised up this church 83 years ago to preach and teach the Bible, win the lost, and to send missionaries to the ends of the earth. Nothing has changed in our mandate in all these years.
Acts 1:8 explains why we do what we do. Our founders lit a fire that burns to this very day. May the flames burn ever brighter in the years to come and spread from Oak Park to the ends of the earth. Amen.
O Lord, we have heard these words so often that we hardly hear them at all. Forgive us for taking so lightly what you take so seriously. You have told us what is first on your heart. When you said, “You will be my witnesses,” you were talking to us, not to someone else. Now may we do something about it, and not leave the task to others. Amen.
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