Welcome to Chengdu! Or, should I say, “欢迎来到成都.” Now that you’re a field worker (missionary) here in China, it’s literally your job to figure out how to read and say that—not in English, but in Chinese. Not only that, you also have to learn how to say really hard words like “justification” and “reconciliation.” Sure, you can try to go to the street corner, stand on a box and tell of the love of God, reconciliation to the Father, and justification by faith alone in Christ alone. You can do all that in English, but as Confucius said, “How’s that workin’ out for ya’?” (Okay, maybe it was Dr. Phil who said that.) You probably wouldn’t expect very great results if you just showed up in rural China and started explaining the Gospel in English, would you? You have to put in the time and effort for YEARS and YEARS to learn the language and the culture before you would even dare to talk about the Gospel with someone. Otherwise, you might say something wrong and spread a false Gospel. And we all know what Paul had to say about that…
“But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed.” (Galatians 1:8) If you will allow me to translate that into modern vernacular, “If anyone preaches a Gospel other than the one true Gospel to you, let him be damned to Hell!” I think it’s safe to say that Paul was pretty adamant about the One, True Gospel. I think it’s pretty safe to say he was passionate about preaching ONLY the One, True Gospel. And yet, despite that passion for the One Truth, Paul also said in I Corinthians 9:19-27 that he preached the One, True Gospel at least four different ways! He said that He preached it one way to the Jews, one way to those under the Law, one way to those without the Law, one way to the weak, and then in a summative comment says, “I have become all things to all men, so that I may by all means save some.” He started that passage by saying that he had become a slave to all these people. Did you hear that? Paul enslaved himself to nonbelievers! Imagine how schizophrenic you would be if you had to preach the Gospel four different ways as Paul did in just a span of 12-15 years! But Paul enslaved himself to these nonbelievers to whom he was ministering.
It’s no different for our field workers around the world. They arrive in Chengdu or Islamabad or Nairobi or Timbuktu knowing nothing about the language and culture. They enslave themselves to a people group, enduring the daily grind of learning the language, culture, customs, and ways of thinking that these other people prefer. Why do they do all this? Do they do it because it’s fun? That’s laughable! Do they do it because they’re gluttons for punishment? I’m sure they could find punishment in America without leaving everything they’ve ever known! Do they do it because it’s an adventure? I’m sorry, but enduring cold showers, malaria, mold infestations, dengue fever, demonic possessions of the next-door neighbor, single-pane windows that rip your arm to shreds when you lean up against them, and bugs that would make John Wayne scream like a little girl doesn’t exactly sound like an adventure to me! No, they do all this for the sake of the Gospel. They do all this because those people in Chengdu, Islamabad, Nairobi, and Timbuktu don’t know Christ, AND NO ONE ELSE IS CURRENTLY EVEN TRYING TO TELL THEM ABOUT CHRIST! So they go and they endure all of this because virtually no one in that country, language, and culture knows Christ and the most logical way to change that is to have someone from another country, language, and culture come to them and become one of them. They endure all of this because becoming one of those people is what it takes to earn the right to be heard. They are just the next generation of Christians in the long line from the Apostle Paul to St. Patrick to William Carey to Hudson Taylor to Elisabeth Elliot who, in their day, adapted to the people around them to bring them the Gospel.
“But wait, Pastor Michael, I don’t live in Chengdu. I’m not a missionary. What does this have to do with me?” Oh boy, am I glad you asked! At the end of the day, what Paul, William Carey, and Hudson Taylor did (and what Sam, Darren, Megan, Janelle, and Jim are currently doing) is to meet people where they’re at to share the Gospel with them. These people are giving of themselves to become like other people so that they can have a right to speak about the Gospel with those other people. Now ask yourself the question, “Are there ‘other people’ in Hemet?” Of course, there are! To say nothing of race, class or gender, just think about the age differences in Hemet. If you’re 50 years or older, then about 65% of this town is “other people” for you. These “other people” think WAY differently than you. You hold to One Truth. These people believe that you can have your truth and I can have my truth and Joe Schmo can have yet another truth!
The facts of the matter are these: (1) Hemet is way different than it’s ever been, (2) there are more people in Hemet who need the Gospel than there ever have been, (3) we have a responsibility to follow in the footsteps of Paul (and countless others throughout the last 2,000 years) to become “all things to all men, so that [we] may by all means save some.” These facts are the reason behind all the decisions being made at Cornerstone. Virtually every decision that’s being made, from the bulletin to communion to music to preaching to lighting, all comes down to asking ourselves, “How can we meet these people of Hemet where they’re at to share the Gospel with them?” We nevercompromise on the One, True Gospel. We never shy away from Truth. But even Paul recognized that while there’s only One, True Gospel, there’s at least four different ways to explain it (and probably as many ways as there are distinct types of people to whom you’re trying to explain it).
The question you’re probably asking yourself right now is, “But, Pastor Michael, if we’re making all these decisions with those “other people” in Hemet in mind, what about us? What about those of us who have been Christians and part of this church for 50 years? Don’t you love us too?” OF COURSE WE DO! The amount of time we spend focusing on a person’s needs is not what determines how much we love them. We have three kids—a 6 year old (Grace), a 3 year old (Eliana), and a 10 month old (Judah). I can guarantee you that throughout the day Ashley spends FAR more time attending to the needs of the 10 month old. Why? Because she loves him more? No! Because he’s more important than his older sisters? Of course, not! She spends more time with him because he needs more attention. Grace can run and play in the backyard with her friend next door for hours with periodic check-ins. We can’t do that with Judah. He’s still a baby. He requires constant attention to make sure he’s not putting something in his mouth on which he can choke. So, let’s bring that back to the church. If we’re making all these decisions with those “other people” in Hemet in mind, does it mean we love you less? No! It means they need more time and attention. If you’ve been a believer and part of this church for the last 40 years, you can go play outside by yourself by now, can’t you? Those people out there don’t even know how to spell “Truth.” (It’s spelled J-E-S-U-S, by the way). If they don’t even acknowledge that there is truth, then certainly they’re more like our 10 month old who needs constant attention and direction. So when you see decisions being made that are not made with you in mind, don’t assume that means you’re unloved. It just means we trust you to be able to function on your own, but there’s another group out there we can’t trust so much.
That being said, we also understand that it’s not easy to watch that happen. It’s never easy for the older sibling to have to adapt to a younger sibling who is getting all the attention. It’s not easy to see choices made about the bulletin, music, ministries, etc. without you as the primary focus. It’s hard to watch that happen right before your eyes. We get that. But I think there are at least two reasons why we should endure that hardship. First of all, I think it’s glorifying to God. When we give up our rights and put other people first, we are living the way Christ lived. There’s no doubt about that. Secondly, we have a great opportunity before us. We have the opportunity to stand in a long line of Gospel proclaimers who have gone before us. Just like St. Paul, William Carey, Adoniram Judson, and our current field workers, we have an opportunity to endure hardship and enslave ourselves to those who still need the Gospel. Even better, we don’t have to endure dengue fever, malaria, or Texas-sized bugs. Instead, we just have to endure sitting through other people’s preferences. I tell you what, I’d take that any day over a Hercules Beetle!
So here’s my challenge to you: consider yourself as having been dropped in Chengdu. You may be sitting there thinking, “I have no idea how these Millennials who make up the majority of our town think.” But that’s no excuse to write them off. They need the Gospel. Christians from Paul to us and for all 2,000 years in between have been accommodating themselves to the people around them so that they can clearly communicate the Gospel to them. I invite you to stand in that long line of believers. If you don’t, who will? So, I say again, “Welcome to Chengdu!”