The 2018 Winter Olympic Games are over. After 2,922 athletes from ninety-two nations competed in 102 events, Norway won the medal count with thirty-nine, followed by Germany, Canada, the United States and the Netherlands.
But the athletes we watched on television were not the only teams that went to the Games. Baptists, Presbyterians and Methodists sent missionary teams to Pyeongchang as well.
Twenty -six local congregations also staged outreach ministries.
One church's members dressed in traditional costume as they offered coffee and snacks to spectators while a live orchestra played. Pin trading proved to be an effective way to begin evangelistic conversations.
What the Olympic athletes accomplished will fade from memory over time. What the Olympic missionaries accomplished will bear fruit forever (Isaiah 55:10-11).
I was a pastor in Atlanta during the 1996 Summer Olympics. Our church learned that when the Olympic Games come to a city, the world comes with them. Our members were able to share Christ with more than 20,000 people through water stations, clown attractions and literature distribution.
The key, we discovered, is to see the hordes descending on our city not as invaders who will disrupt our lives (which they did), but as a Kingdom opportunity to reach the world. Then be ready to be used in surprising ways.
The boy with two names
I was reading the familiar story of Moses recently and noted how surprising his story really was.
The Jews had been enslaved in Egypt for four centuries and were now oppressed by a pharaoh who demanded that every Hebrew baby boy be killed. Such a genocide would lead to the extinction of their race.
When Moses was born, his mother put him in a basket and hid him among papyrus reeds on the Nile river. The daughter of the man who sought the extermination of the Hebrew people found the Hebrew child and adopted him as her own. She gave him his name as well (Exodus 2:10).
Moses sounds like mashah, meaning "to draw out." Since she rescued him from the river, his name made sense. But Moses' name may also be related to the common Egyptian word for "son," a reference to his status as her son and Pharaoh's grandson.
Moses fulfilled both names: he grew up as a child of royalty before he was "drawn out" of Egypt. When he saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, this grandson of Pharaoh surprisingly sided with the Hebrew and killed the Egyptian. When Pharaoh learned what his grandson had done, he ordered his execution.
Moses fled into the wilderness as a hunted fugitive. There he married the daughter of a Midianite priest and lived for 40 years. Another shocking surprise-this time a bush that was burning but not consumed-sent him back to the land he had fled. He eventually led his people from Egyptian slavery to the edge of the Promised Land.
No one would have predicted such a future when Moses received his two-sided name.
What happens when we are abandoned to God
When God is at work, expect to be surprised.
Oswald Chambers: "Abandon to God is of more value than personal holiness." Here's why: "We have to get rid of this notion-'Am I of any use?' and make up our minds that we are not, and we may be near the truth. It is never a question of being of use, but of being of value to God Himself. When we are abandoned to God, He works through us all the time."
When we are yielded to God, he uses us in ways he cannot use us when we are trying to be of use to him.
This fact is made more urgent by our culture's continued privatization of faith. The "separation of church and state" is quickly becoming the "separation of faith and life." Any faith statement that might offend someone is forbidden as intolerant. Of course, statements that offend Christians are more tolerated than ever before.
The good news is that our omniscient Lord knows how, when, and where to prompt us to speak and act in ways that draw people to himself. Remember Jesus' promise: "When they bring you before the synagogues and the rulers and the authorities, do not be anxious about how you should defend yourself or what you should say, for the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say" (Luke 12:11-12).
What God did through Moses he can now do through your words and witness.
No culture, from North Korea to Communist China to Cuba, is beyond his providence and power. No soul, from murderous Saul of Tarsus to Kim Jong-un, is beyond his reach.
But God has chosen to use people like Moses and Winter Olympics missionaries and you and me to communicate his truth. That's why he is calling us to stay abandoned to him today.
What I learned at a Vietnam Memorial
The urgency of such submission was reinforced for me over the weekend. I spoke at a conference in Midland, Texas, last Saturday and stopped by the Permian Basin Vietnam Veterans Memorial at the airport on my way home.
Every name inscribed on the wall was someone who had dreams and plans for his or her future. I hoped that Christians who knew them shared Christ with them before it was too late. Then I realized that the next person I meet is in precisely the same position as those soldiers fighting in the jungles of Vietnam 50 years ago.
Tomorrow is promised to none of us. Eternity beckons today.
Are you "abandoned to God"?
First published at the Denison Forum.