Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Small World, Big God

In 1992 my family took our one and only trip to Disney World. Our kids were pretty much the perfect age for it: twelve and ten. And we had a great time—saw some neat stuff, rode some cool rides, ate some incredibly expensive food. (I don’t know what it is that increases the value of a hamburger to 8 bucks just because it’s served in the Magic Kingdom … but I digress.) Anyway, back to the rides. Some were a lot of fun, but one was really annoying. If you’ve been there you may have found it annoying too. I think it’s called “Small World.” It’s just a little boat ride through a meandering stream with small characters hanging out along the route. That part was boring. This part was annoying: over and over and over and over and over and over they played the song, It’s a Small World After All. Talk about engaging lyrics: “It’s a small world after all. It’s a small world after all. It’s a small world after all. It’s a small world after all.” Profound, huh? Did I mention that they played it over and over and over and over and over? It’s a trick, I think, to drive parents crazy. Not only do they bore you to death, they weld that squirrelly little song to your brain so that it keeps playing there long after you’ve exited the ride. It’s been eighteen years since I heard it and it’s still in my head. Maybe I need medication. Maybe I just need to punch Mickey Mouse in the nose. But the song is still rattling around somewhere in my head. I will say this, however: the message of the song is spot on. It is a small world after all.

That was once again brought home to me a couple of weeks ago. Every year our church holds a mission celebration—five of my favorite days of the year. We invite missionaries from all over the world to join us. We try to encourage them and learn from them. We get them with as many of our people as possible during those days. We mingle them with our young and our old and every age in between. It seems they are all stricken with a serious case of mission fever, so we mingle them with our folks in the hope that we'll catch the fever too. Jesus told the church to go into the world and make disciples of all nations; our church is under the impression that He was talking to us. So we go on lots of mission trips, do a lot of mission work in our own city, and spend some quality time with our missionaries. When you go on mission trips and when you spend time with missionaries the world gets smaller. You can’t hardly look at a map anymore without thinking, “That’s where Rusty and Lori live. And Harriet lives there. And Rodney and Diana live in that country.” It makes the world smaller.

So we enjoy having the missionaries with us each year. I always get a kick out of listening to them describe crazy things they have had to eat on the mission field. This year one of our missionaries from East Asia talked about being served something kind of nasty. Not wanting to offend his host, he ate it. He said he kept thinking as he was trying to choke it down that it tasted just like poo. Come to find out, he was eating animal rectum. (Pause here while you go throw up.) Another ate this fermented crud (something like rotten potatoes) that these South American Indians bury in a hole in the ground and leave there until it would knock a buzzard off a gut wagon. They call that mess a delicacy, but if you’ve got a delicate stomach, I wouldn’t touch it with a ten-foot fork. Some food, huh? And I’m only scratching the surface here. Many of our missionaries work in impoverished cultures where, unlike we wasteful Americans, the locals won’t waste one thing on any animal they kill for food. How about eating the fat out of a cow’s horn? Yes, they do that too. I’ve been served some interesting things on the mission field, but nothing quite like what I’ve mentioned here. And honestly, I’m not sure I love Jesus enough to eat some of the stuff that our missionaries have forced themselves to chew and swallow. They do it in an effort to gain credibility for them and the gospel. I'm embarrassed to admit it but I don't think I could do that. I’m so picky with American food that I didn’t start eating broccoli till I was 30, and here in my 50s I just started eating mushrooms and asparagus and red peppers. Still, listening to them talk about these crazy foods seems to make the world smaller too. You look at a map and think, “That’s where Jim and Linda eat animal rectum.” Yum, yum! The more we know about cultures the smaller the world becomes.

But while it’s entertaining to hear missionary menus, the most compelling thing we hear is their God and people stories. Let me tell you one that made a deep impression on me. I can’t tell you the real name of the missionary because he serves in a dangerous area. We’ll call him James. Much of James’ job is to develop strategies to reach groups untouched by the gospel. Some of that includes training local believers to reach their own people for Jesus. James was invited to provide this kind of training for a particular group in a particular city. Due to another commitment, James was unable to go. Not wanting to miss the opportunity, however, James sent a couple of local believers who work with him to go in his place and do the training. Somehow word got out about the meeting and when James’ friends arrived there, they were met by a fundamentalist group of the local religion (not Islam by the way). This group brought baseball bats along. They broke up the meeting. They broke up James’ friends too. They clubbed them with baseball bats. They cursed them and spat upon them and dragged them through the streets. Then they separated them, moved them to different parts of the city, stole their cell phones, and abandoned them in those isolated spots beat up, alone, and unable to contact anyone who could help them.

When James heard this story, he was both sad and angry. As James put it, “It’s a hard thing to know you sent someone to take the beating that was meant for you.” When James finally got to speak with one of his friends who had been persecuted (we’ll call him Hadji), James said, “I told him that I was praying that God would drop hellfire and brimstone on those men who brutalized him.” But Hadji didn’t concur. He said, “Remember, James: before Paul was a missionary, he was a persecutor of the church. I’m praying that God would save them and make them followers of Jesus and lovers of the church.” Needless to say, James felt duly put in his place by the trajectory of Hadji’s prayer compared to his own.

Just a couple of weeks before James came back to the States for a break, Hadji gave him a call. It seems that Hadji was going back to the same city where he had been beaten and persecuted. He was going back to offer the training that had been so rudely interrupted the first time he tried it. And guess what Hadji told him. “James,” he said, “I’ll be training one of the men who beat me up.”

For some reason, hearing a story like that makes the world smaller for me. I have read numerous persecution stories but to listen to a man who lives it draws me closer to the action. Now, when I hear other stories of persecution, I’ll think of James and Hadji and pray for all our brothers and sisters who pay a sometimes severe price for following Jesus. See what I mean? It sort of makes the world a little smaller.

But listening to missionaries does something even better: it makes God a lot bigger. What a large God we serve—big enough to work both sides of this story. God gave Hadji the grace to forgive the men who brutalized him. And God gave one of those persecutors the grace to save him from his sins and draw him into faith and life and the very church he tried to destroy. That’s some big God. Small world? Yes. Big God? Absolutely!

It sort of changes that Disney tune rolling around in my head: “He’s a big God after all. He’s a big God after all. He’s a big God after all. He’s a big God after all.” And I don’t know about you, but I like that tune much better.


  1. I think it is times like this that we are given just a wee glimpse of the Father's face. Loved the story and thankful I was not having a sandwich while reading:)

    Also my daughter, Lori told me about Missionary Sunday and how special it was for her. Awesome!

  2. Hi Pastor, what a great story of courage and love........... and what not to eat while abroad...(heehee)
    We are in Shreveport working for the next 2 months...missing everyone there. Wanted to tell you we connected with Broadmoor Baptist - as a Church away from home, and met a Senior Pastor there "Larry" who was very familiar with you (and the Church) they have been so nice and friendly. It is a small world !
    Thank you for the GREAT story !
    Lori Gomez

  3. Thanks, Mollye and Lori. By the way, Lori, I preached a sermon last Sunday on our relationship with Jesus. Thought about that per our conversation a short while back. You should be able to find it on the church website or the podcast site if you're interested. Hope all goes well in Shreveport.

  4. Hi Pastor, just wanted to clarify: we WILL be coming back home there in July. We are just here working to set up a tourism show for the summer. We will then be coming back in forth as needed. It's a great way for me to spend more time with my momma. We are staying at "camp Dixie" (that's - our RV in my mommas yard) .....
    I will indeed keep up with the sermons through the church website ! I especially want to make a point to watch that one tonight with Marcus (thank you)
    and ~ we're missing you too ! Lori