by Jim Reapsome
Closure has crept into missionary thinking, but it doesn’t belong there.
Closure has a nice feel to it. It’s how you feel when you close on your house, when you sink that last putt, when you quietly say, "Checkmate."
It feels good to win, to accomplish something, to reach a goal. It’s how the Allies felt when Germany and Japan surrendered. It’s how Americans felt when we put a man on the moon. "Let’s close the deal," we say, and then we’re off for new world to conquer.
Closure has crept into missionary thinking, but it doesn’t belong there. Closure in the engineering, business, athletic and war-making sense is out of character with the Jesus way in world missions. "Let’s get this job done" is a foreign language to Jesus and his apostles.
We have even been so audacious as to add, "Let’s get this job done so Jesus can come back." Can you possibly imagine a puny band of human beings withstanding the hand of Almighty God? Jesus will come when he is good and ready, not when our missionary arithmetic says the job is done.
Jesus will come, not when our charts say, "Okay, Lord, you can come now," but when nobody is looking for him. Jesus will come like the burglar when nobody’s home. The world will be doing its thing as usual, and one day from out of nowhere the trumpet will sound, heaven will light up far brighter than when a hydrogen bomb goes off, and Jesus will be here faster than you can say, "Two thousand tongues to go," or whatever.
Some of us will be running around shopping for oil at the strip mall, to paraphrase the classic parable, because according to our calculations Jesus can’t come back yet. We’ll be pushing more and more four-color brochures, and videos, and Web pages, recruiting more and more people, and spending more and more millions of dollars to get the job done, when Wham! it will be all over, just like that, in the wink of an eyelid.
But lest we get rusty rocking away in our easy chairs, let’s remember closure looms on our screens like one of those movie creatures that occasionally gobbles up Manhattan Island. When Jesus comes, that will be it. That’s why he told us to work like blazes while the sun shines. Night comes. It’s all over. Too late to work for me now. That’s one kind of closure.
The Bible is frighteningly clear about another kind, called death. Death has a terrible finality about it. Like the coming of Jesus, death is eminently unpredictable. The actuarial charts may give you some comfort, but don’t count on the averages. If you’re planning on doing something for Jesus, better not put it off. The final buzzer will go off and you’ll still be dribbling the ball around back court.
But doesn’t, "Let’s finish the task!" pack some punch? After all, the argument goes, people need some powerful prodding to get on a war footing so we can attack the last redoubts of unbelief. So, let’s find the places where he is known, and get on with the countdown.
Of course, we have to confess that the church in many instances has been diverted from world evangelization. We must also confess that in some parts of the world the church is bloated with more Christian nurture than it can possibly absorb, while vast populations die without a crumb of good news.
But the best medicine may not be the psychological tool of driving for closure, in the sense that one day the church will be able to convene a great victory celebration and declare the war over, the task finished, every last people group reached.
If I understand the church’s unfinished task correctly, it is that every generation of people needs Jesus. Suppose we do reach every last people group with a penetrating gospel witness. Does that mean there are no more people left to evangelize? Does that mean we call a moratorium on the Great Commission? Of course not.
Every reached people group needs to be reached again and again—every person in every generation. That’s the church’s perpetual work ethic. We can’t chalk off any tribe or nation because once upon a time somebody started a church there. Look around the world and see the curse of nominal Christianity.
We don’t need more "Let’s get the job done" closure sermons; we need more people transformed by the Holy Spirit to start telling people everywhere that Jesus loves them, died for them, rose again, ascended to heaven, and is coming back any minute now. "Jesus is coming!" was the early church’s jet fuel that blasted people off the runway of laziness and indifference.. Even so, come Lord Jesus, ready or not.
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