Thursday night I was in my neighborhood, playing Futsal, a Brazilian-style of soccer played on a basketball court with small goals. I play with guys from all over the world—Honduras, Guatemala, Algiers, France, Russia, Jamaica, Brazil, England, Afghanistan, Morocco—these are all guys I’ve gotten to know the past few years. I saw a guy on the sideline, and since it’s a “meet-up” pickup game, I figured he was new and I would let him take my place. Five minutes after I left, a 23-year-old Jamaican man who was on my team, dropped dead on the field. I found out the next day. Apparently, he had some heart condition that he wasn’t even aware he had. He had just graduated from college in Miami and took a job with Apple in Austin.
I wrestled with God over why I had left just before that happened. I had done a gesture of kindness that had taken me out of a critical moment when I could have ministered to that young man as EMS worked on him for forty minutes, and I could have ministered to all these young guys I’ve played with twice a week for over a year. I didn’t get an answer, but I did get a wake-up call. It was like the Lord was reminding me, “I showed you that I’m bringing the world to you—now wake up–and boldly tell them about my love for them.”
You see, about seven years ago, I noticed God directing my attention to see something I hadn’t noticed: The WORLD all around me right in Austin. Everywhere I would go I would notice—Indians, Arabs, Chinese, the nations. It was as if the Lord had tuned my reticular activating system to see what He was doing. The reticular activating system is that part of your brain that tells you what’s important to you and what’s not—it’s why when you’re thinking of buying a black Mazda, all you see are black Mazda’s everywhere! I started to pray for the World all around me, and as I did, I felt the Holy Spirit reminding me that He cares deeply for all people… “For God so loved…the whole world…that He gave His one and only son so that all who believe in him will not perish but have everlasting life.”
Do you see the WORLD all around you? God’s bringing the world to your city and mine, but I fear the church has it’s reticular activating system noticing other things—focusing us on politics, on fear, on our own internal struggles, or just on ourselves. Jesus made it really clear that His love and grace are to be extended to all the nations. Over 500 times in the Bible, God speaks about “the nations.” Jesus was the fulfillment of God’s very purpose for calling Abraham and Sarah and creating the Jewish people, “to be a blessing to all the nations” (Gen. 12:1-3). Jesus’ first followers were sent out—sometimes forced out by persecution—from what was comfortable, so that they would take God’s good news to the nations. “Go and make disciples of all the nations…” (Matt. 28:18), “When the Holy Spirit comes you will receive power to be my witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). And when all is said and done, God’s plan for all the nations will be accomplished, and we will see people “from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne…” (Rev. 7:9). Do you see what God is doing all around you?
That’s the question I feel like God keeps asking me, and I have a sneaking suspicion He’s asking that of other leaders too. If we learn from the scriptures, we should be aware that His first followers (the Apostles) didn’t fully understand God’s heart for all nations. Even though at Pentecost they miraculously proclaimed the good news in all the languages of people God brought to Jerusalem, yet years later most were still hanging out in comfortable Jerusalem. It wasn’t until persecution hit that “Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went” (Acts 8:4). God finds a way to get the message to all the nations, and I believe He’s made it incredibly easy for His church in America—if we will wake up and see what He’s doing.
Over the last seven years, I’ve prayed and tried to get more intentional about reaching out to the nations. I joined this “meet up” soccer–one of the only “white guys.” We changed our annual survey at Gateway to ask what country you came from, and to my surprise, discovered 57 nations represented at Gateway. We didn’t do this, God did this. I started praying for Indians, and 7 Indians came up to me that year after the service! I started to build into one young leader who is working to launch a Network to Indians. I started meeting with a Hispanic leader to build a Network to Spanish speakers. I talked to the former Muslims among us to begin ministering among Muslims. We invested in Jon Monger, a Bhutanese man who came to Austin as a refugee from Nepal. Tortured and kicked out of Bhutan for converting to Christianity, yet in Austin, Jon and his wife kept serving and leading more and more Nepalese to faith. Gateway decided to financially support Jon to go full time, and his church has grown to nearly 300 Bhutanese/Nepalese, and he has helped start over 200 Bhutanese/Nepalese churches in cities across America. Some of our efforts have been amazing, some very painfully slow and difficult.
Wake Up! But this week I felt God reminding me—you don’t know how long you have. Wake up and tell them about me. I must confess, I lost some of my boldness with these guys I play soccer with. I realized in a new way that we must “Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil” (Eph. 5:15-16). Saturday morning, we invited the nations back to the court where Garfield died. I felt a love for these guys that compelled me to be bold. With about 25 guys from all over the world gathered, I boldly told them how much God loves them, and told them all about Jesus, and that this life is not the end—it’s meant to be the beginning. I gave away copies of Imagine Heaven to all who wanted one, in hopes of further conversation. As I drove home, I remembered the words I often heard from my former leader Bill Bright: “Preach the gospel, in the power of the Holy Spirit, and leave the results to God.” That’s what we are called to do. God is bringing the World to us—the only question is will we see what He wants us to do about it? Wake Up!
By: John Burke