S T R E T C H !
Ross W. Graham
It was Sunday morning, January 3, 1937, when a young seminarian from the recently established Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia stepped into the pulpit of one of the leading congregations in a new denomination that would soon take the name Orthodox Presbyterian Church. It was Christmas break. The professors were out of town. The pastor of the church was on vacation and had enlisted the young ministerial student to fill the pulpit.
But two days earlier, devastating news had arrived from North Dakota: J. Gresham Machen had died. The leader of the new denomination was gone. The driving force for distinguishing between Christianity and theological liberalism had passed from the scene. Sorrow and loss pervaded the atmosphere. What would the young seminarian say to put God's perspective on this cataclysmic event?
So it was that a youthful John Galbraith chose for his text that day Joshua 13:1, "There remains very much land yet to be possessed." This seminary senior, who would go on to serve three Orthodox Presbyterian congregations and then become the longest tenured general secretary for the Committee on Foreign Missions, used the text to urge the congregation of Calvary OPC in Germantown (later Glenside), Pennsylvania, to move forward in the work that lay ahead.
In Joshua 13:1, God spoke directly to Joshua when he said, "You are old, advanced in years, and there remains very much land yet to be possessed." He was saying to Joshua, in effect, "It is time for the people of God to S T R E T C H to reach the goal I have appointed for them. It will not be easy. It will require much effort and sacrifice on their part. But I have promised to be with them and to ensure their success. And you must get them to rely on their God and not on your leadership to do this work. It is time for the new generation to shoulder the work of being my people. It is time for them to S T R E T C H their hearts and minds and wills to make the sacrifices and do the work that is so important to be done."
Jesus' Call to S T R E T C H
In a similar way, the Lord Jesus Christ told his disciples and all of us in Matthew 28:18-20 that all authority had been given to him in heaven and on earth. "Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations...." He was saying that it was time for those first disciples to S T R E T C H their sights beyond God's old covenant people. The good news of the gospel is for people of every tribe and tongue and nation, and not anymore just for those of Jewish decent. But, speaking directly to us, Jesus is reminding us that the work is not yet complete. "Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age." Jesus intends to S T R E T C H our sights and efforts and sacrifices too. Every new generation of God's people must pick up the work of spreading the gospel because "there remains very much land yet to be possessed."
Every generation of God's people has had its job to do on a march to the end of the age. Every generation of God's people has had his divinely appointed leaders to follow. And every generation of God's people has shouldered the work and made the sacrifices necessary to see his work accomplished. While the accomplishments of past generations and the strength and blessing afforded by their leaders are to be celebrated, "there remains very much land yet to be possessed." We must look forward.
What does it mean for uswe who are the present generation of God's peopleto take up his work? It means that God wants to S T R E T C H us. It means that if we are genuinely convinced that God sent his son into the world to save sinners, and that the gospel is to be taken into all the world, then it is up to us to make the efforts and sacrifices necessary to see that happen. We cannot just be happy that past generations of God's people expended those efforts and made those sacrifices to present us with the strong and faithful Orthodox Presbyterian Church that we enjoy today. Now it's our turn to be stretched.
How the Lord Works through Us
The Orthodox Presbyterian Church has a way of implementing our Lord's Great Commission to go into all the world and make disciples of all nations. It's called Worldwide Outreach. It's a studied approach to spreading the gospel. It says that in order to carry out our task effectively, we need to (1) help start new churches, (2) send out ministers and other ordained servants to foreign lands to preach and serve in Christ's name to help start new churches there, and (3) train pastors for the churches and disciple all those to whom we minister. We of the present generation must pick up this work. We must support it with our dollars and our prayers. We must at least consider going to help with the labor. We must encourage our children to see the importance of this work and be willing to let them go, if and when God calls them to it.
Right now is a very challenging time for Worldwide Outreachour denominational ministries of Home Missions, Foreign Missions, and Christian Education. There has been a noticeable slump in the financial support of Worldwide Outreach this year. That slump may be due to fears about the economy, or it may be due to something else. But here is the challenge and the S T R E T C H. We support the labors of eighteen full-time foreign missionary families on eight foreign fields. We would like to add two more: one for Haiti and one for Uruguay. We support the labors of forty-nine church planters and regional home missionaries. We would like to keep that up and add a few more. We support a host of ministries of education and discipleship for the whole church and about fifteen pastoral interns each year. We would like that number to be closer to twenty. "There remains very much land yet to be possessed."
How can these increases be achieved in this period of economic downturn? Not by anything we can do. But if the Lord works through us, great things can be accomplished. Every November since 1949, a Thank Offering has been received for the work of Worldwide Outreach. Almost all Orthodox Presbyterian congregations give to the Thank Offering. It's the most worthy of causes. It speeds the spread of the gospel at home and around the world. It usually works this way: individual families and members prayerfully consider what they are able to contribute to the Thank Offering, and on an appointed day or days (usually in November) the offering is received by their local church and sent to Worldwide Outreach.
How Much Can We S T R E T C H ?
Here's the S T R E T C H. Could every Orthodox Presbyterian church, no matter how large or small, give to the 2010 Thank Offering? Could every family and individual who gave to the Thank Offering last year consider increasing that gift by 50 percent this year? Could every church session challenge their people to increase by 50 percent the amount they give to the 2010 Thank Offering as compared to last year? It will require effort. It may be a sacrifice. But the cause of the spread of the gospel is of immense importance.
As the Orthodox Presbyterian Church receives her sixty-second annual Thank Offering for the ministries of Home Missions, Foreign Missions, and Christian Education, it seems fitting to note that this year's themeS T R E T C H !was suggested to us a few months ago by the 97-year-old John Galbraith. He remains as determined as ever to see the work of the Great Commission fulfilled. He continues to be an enthusiastic supporter of Worldwide Outreach and the Thank Offering. And he would be the first to remind us that even as the OPC prepares to celebrate the seventy-fifth anniversary of her founding next spring, we need to look forward to all that God still has for us to do and to give accordingly.
It's time for us to S T R E T C H, so that the 2010 Thank Offering will speed the spread of the gospel in North America and throughout the world.
The author is the general secretary for the Committee on Home Missions and Church Extension. He quotes the NKJV. New Horizons, November 2010.