Personal Perspective Part 2
Larry Walters needed some bigger perspective. So he went to the Army-Navy surplus store, bought forty-five used weather balloons, filled them with helium, and attached them to his self-made aircraft, a Sears lawn chair named Inspiration.
With a BB gun for elevation control, a PBJ sandwich for lunch, and a 6 pack of cold beer, Lawnchair Larry climbed into his aircraft and signaled for the ropes to be cut. Up he shot, above his house, above his neighborhood, above his city.
Two and a half hours later, the Los Angeles International Airport reported an “Unidentified Flying Object” above LAX at nearly 16,000 feet. Larry was now three miles higher and one hundred miles further from his original launch site. That wasn’t exactly the perspective he had in mind.
At 2,000 feet, Larry panicked, broke open the six-pack, and eventually passed out. SWAT teams reached and ferried him safely to the ground. After reviving Larry back to consciousness, local police issued him a $4,000 ticket for “obstruction of airport traffic.” Then a journalist asked him the question: Larry, why did you do it? He replied: “I just got tired of always sitting around.”
I find that a lot of Christians in churches feel the same way as Larry. They are bored with church (and maybe in church). They’re tired of just sitting around. They feel like they are supposed to be doing something bigger in the mission of God but don’t quite know what it is. So in the meantime, they come to church, try to pay attention, serve, maybe tithe, and try to behave. What’s missing?
Maybe you’re not ready to repeat Larry’s stunt, but if you were honest, you’d like some bigger perspective, too. Good news—you don’t need weather balloons or a six-pack. Paul gives us plenty of perspective in his personal introduction to the church at Rome.
In verses 14 and 15 Paul tells us how to view ourselves. He writes: “I am under obligation both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish. So I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome.”
Paul gives himself a rather peculiar title that we might chafe at if we’re paying attention. He calls himself a debtor, someone bound, under obligation. What did Paul mean? In what way did he owe a debt?
There’s no mysterious meaning. The word is easy to understand. It means you have a payment to deliver to someone it’s owed. So in what sense was Paul a debtor?
There are two ways to be in debt. One way is to owe money you borrowed. Another way is for someone to give me a debt owed to you. I’m obligated to hand it over. I’m indebted to you in a sense, bound to pay up. Paul meant the second way. God has entrusted something to us that He intends for us to give to others. What is it? The Gospel.
We have received something from God for unbelievers. Their race, social standing, and education did not matter. Jews, Gentiles, Greeks, Barbarians, civilized, uncivilized, rich, poor, male, female, religious, irreligious. There are no distinctions. All stand in need of God’s saving grace. Paul owed them all the Gospel—and so do we.
It’s easy to get comfortable and forget that we exist for the outsiders—we’ve been sent. We’re on mission. The Bible calls us ambassadors. That means someone who carries an official message from a monarch. We serve and represent king Jesus. He has entrusted a vital message into our hands. How are we delivering that message?
Hudson Taylor founded China Inland Mission in the1850’s. He was known for his sensitivity to Chinese culture and zeal for evangelism—a rare combination. He adopted wearing native Chinese clothing even though that was a rare practice among missionaries of that time. He even grew a Chinese pigtail, but that was not all.
Taylor’s unusual missionary approach included eating Chinese food with Chinese utensils; living among the Chinese in their native housing; learning to speak, read, and write Chinese; observing local customs and etiquette; studying traditional culture; respecting and using Chinese medicine. Why? He was a debtor! He wrote:
Let us in everything unsinful become Chinese, that by all things we may save some. Let us adopt their costume, acquire their language, study to imitate their habits, and approximate to their diet as far as health and constitution will allow.
He was imitating the Apostle Paul, who said, I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings” (1 Corinthians 9:22–23). Like Paul, Hudson Taylor devoted his life to understanding his mission field so he could effectively reach them for Christ. He had no tolerance for Christians who were lukewarm about their mission. He said:
Can all the Christians in England sit still with folded arms while these multitudes in China are perishing—perishing for lack of knowledge—for lack of that knowledge which England possesses so richly?
When Hudson left England for China, only a few dozen missionaries were stationed there. By the time he died 5 decades later, thousands volunteered annually to serve.
The way you view yourself has an enormous impact on the way you view unbelievers. Seeing yourself as a debtor and your audience in desperate need of the message you hold will soften your heart, foster compassion, and provide a sense of urgency.
Perspective matters. Rather than viewing unbelievers as our enemies, and growing disgusted, annoyed, or offended by them, we can finally see them as broken sinners, and ourselves as debtors, bound to share with them the good news of Jesus.
As a debtor, how are you leveraging your life, relationships, position, and gifts?