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JOHN STOTT AT SADDLEBACK: LESSONS FROM A HAWAIIAN SHIRT Print E-mail
Written by Kevin L. Howard   

When John R. W. Stott stepped to the pulpit on October 30th, he sported a blue Hawaiian shirt, in the vein of Pastor Rick Warren.  Stott said he liked his Saddleback shirt, but, unlike Rick, was wearing socks.  His humor immediately brought the crowd right along with him.  His British accent and elderly age gave him the status of sage.

The weekend services on the 29th and 30th represented the end of the PEACE Plan series, and, possibly, the beginning of a movement—a New Reformation.  Rick wants the people of Saddleback, and all Christians, to do whatever it takes to share the message of Jesus.  (He has also made the phrase Whatever it takes a theme at Saddleback.)

 

In Rick’s three-point sermon, titled, “Why Are We Doing the PEACE Plan?,” John Stott’s 10-minute sermon fell under Rick’s first point, Because of God’s Generosity. 

 

Stott’s topic was, Our God is a Generous God.  According to Stott, the church’s purpose makes the concept of Christian mission unpopular with the pluralistic world.  Pluralism talks of the validity of every religion, but Christians must disagree because they believe in the uniqueness (deity) and finality (supremacy) of Christ. 

 

Stott said Christians can’t speak of Jesus as The Great—as we might refer to Alexander or Napoleon—but speak of Jesus as The Only, because the Lord has no successors or peers.  Mission work is rooted in the heart of God, Stott said.  He drew laughter from the crowd when he said his sermon text would be the whole Bible.  He then explained his five major points.

 

I. In the Old Testament, God told Abraham that divine blessings would stretch beyond Abraham’s family to the whole earth.  We, as gentiles, benefit from that promise made so long ago.

 

II. In the Gospels, Christ came as a missionary.  He came to earth not only for Israel, but for everyone.  Matthew, who wrote with more of a Jewish flare than his other three peers, makes this global perspective clear.  The Gospel of Matthew starts with the magi (representatives of gentile nations) and ends with Jesus’ command to go to the world and make disciples.

 

III. In Acts, the Holy Spirit is a missionary Spirit.  Pentecost was a missionary event.  The Holy Spirit drove Christians from Jerusalem (the capital of Jewish life) to Rome (the capital of the world).  God drove Christians from their homes to spread his good news to the world.

 

IV. In the Epistles (or letters), the church is a missionary church.  The 21 letters of the New Testament deal with the interior life of the church—teaching, worship, ethics, holiness, and unity, but the New Testament assures us that the church lives in the world and reaches out to the world in witness.

 

V. In the book of Revelation, the missionary vision of the Bible climaxes.  Chapter seven of Revelation shows a picture of all the redeemed people, who ever lived, standing before God.  The picture painted there demonstrates that the mission of the church will result in a huge gathering—people from every tribe, tongue, and nation.  The ingathering will be so vast that it will be countless.  That massive congregation in heaven will show that God’s promise to Abraham has been fulfilled.

 

After recapping, Stott laid out several more points: 

 

  • Missions can’t be dismissed as something for someone else because it lies at the heart of God. 
  • A church not on mission is a church that ceases to exist, since a central part of its identity is missing.
  • We need to repent if we’ve neglected this mission component of the church.
  • Do we claim to believe in God?  He’s a missionary God. Do we belong to the church?  It is a missionary society.  Do we hope to go to heaven?  It’s a place into which the fruits of world mission will be gathered.
  • We must not stand aloof but get involved in the mission of the church.

 

What Stott said next is worth an exact quote: “The authentic Christianity of the Bible is not a safe, smug, selfish, comfortable, escapist little religion.  On the contrary.  It’s an explosive centrifugal force that pulls us out of our self absorption and flings us into God’s world in order to witness and to serve.”

 

He concluded his sermon by quoting William Booth, founder of the Salvation Army.  When Booth addressed a London crowd in 1885, he asked the question, “How wide is the girth of the world?”  Booth’s audience answered, “Twenty-five thousand miles.”  Booth responded, “We must grow until our arms get right round about it.” 

 

Stott ended with the words, “May God make us global Christians, because we have a global God.  Amen!”

 

As the applause died down, and Rick continued the sermon, I felt I’d been in the presence of greatness.  I thought of 10 years prior when Stott spoke at the seminary where I attended.  As I sat, then, among my fellow seminarians, I had admired this prolific author because of his mind.  As I sat, now, among a throng of Southern Californians, I admired this old preacher because of his heart.  Although his sermon topic conveyed his heart for God, and his gray hair showed just how long he’d been on mission with God, the Hawaiian shirt really told the story.

 

By putting on this bright shirt, which probably looked ridiculous to the dignified Stott, he had identified with a casual California crowd.  If a distinguished Stott could wear a Hawaiian shirt to relate to us, then surely we could do the same for the hurting world—whatever it takes to spread the message of Christ.  Whatever it takes!

 
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