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ON A MISSION FROM GOD


This article by Douglas Yeo was first given as a chapel message at Greenville College (Greenville, Illinois) on March 4, 1999, and was subsequently modified, as printed below, and given as a chapel message at Lexington Christian Academy (Lexington, Massachusetts) on February 13, 2003 as part of the school's first "Visiting Artist Program."


Many years ago I attended Wheaton College and while a student there I attended hundreds of chapel services.

My father is a retired pastor and have sat in the front row for hundreds of sermons.

I feel your pain. Now, I am your pain.

Looking out on your faces brings me right back to my own experience in chapel, but now I am on the "other side."

I am reminded of the words of Peter Noll, a college professor who, before his death due to cancer, wrote about his experience in the classroom in his book "In the Face of Death." Professors, take note:

In his diary one day, Noll wrote:

All went well with the lectures, as usual. No one notices anything.

Well, I'd like to share some thoughts that perhaps you will notice. It's early, and you have important things to think about, sleep to catch up on, tests to study for and relationships to dream over. I know this chapel drill pretty well. But I have come here with something to say, and I hope you will give me a few minutes of your time and lend me your ears.

I have been told that here at Lexington Christian Academy, many of you are involved in the pursuit of the arts. That you all are studying and praying and working to affect this dying culture we call post-turn-of-the-century-America.

In our 6000 channel universe, we live in the era of the sound bite, the brief phrase or slogan that immediately gets our attention and instantly transports us to a time or place - the identification is immediate. It's not hard to place a phrase like:

Let's roll - Todd Beamer

I am not a crook. - Richard Nixon

I did not have sexual relations with that woman. - Bill Clinton

Then there are the commercial slogans:

Just do it. - Nike

Think different. - Apple Computer

The television slogans:

Cowabunga dude. - Bart Simpson (or Cookie Monster)

And movie slogans:

Make my day. - Clint Eastwood in "Dirty Harry"

I don't go to many movies. Real life is interesting enough for me, I don't need to see someone telling me what real life is like when I see it myself. And I don't need the gratuitous sex, violence and profanity. So when I do watch a movie, it's usually in its sanitized version for network TV or airline consumption, or something rated G where you won't find another person over the age of 18 unless they have a mini-van full of little kids in tow.

But there is a movie that long ago captured my imagination - and again, any discussion of this film is in no way an endorsement for you to run down to the video store and rent it - when I speak of it, I speak of it in its network TV incarnation, cleaned up and suitable for family - or Christian high school student - entertainment.

And when I say this sound bite, many of you will know instantly what I am talking about. It was a movie filmed not far from my undergraduate alma mater about two brothers who had something they needed to do:

It's a hundred and five miles to Chicago, we've got a full tank of gas, half a pack of cigarettes,
it's dark and we're wearing sunglasses. Hit it.

Yes. That was Elwood Blues talking to his brother, Jake, in "The Blues Brothers."

And those two low life criminals, those two scamming, jamming, slamming, profane, arcane, hip, zipped, flipped and double dipped hoodlums gave me a message I want to challenge you with today.

Those of you who know the film remember the story well: When Jake is released from the state penitentiary in Joliet, his brother brings him, as promised, back to the Catholic School where they went in their youth to see the head nun, "The Penguin." I used to teach in a Catholic school and I know "The Penguin" very well. Some of you may know her well, too. She tells Jake and Elwood of the problem she is having - only in Hollywood can the government move to foreclose on church property for non payment of taxes - churches don't PAY property taxes, but never mind. When Jake suggests they hold up a couple of gas stations to get the money, "The Penguin" chastises him and says that only honest money will be accepted by her and by God.

Jake, who has never known an honest day's work in his life, decides to blow off the whole thing, but Elwood, who has more of a conscience - or a greater fear of "The Penguin," decides to stop at a local Pentecostal church to see if God will give them a revelation on how to embark on this "Mission from God" to get the money for "The Penguin."

And as the congregation is getting worked up, and the choir is swaying, and the Reverend James Brown is preaching and singing, Jake hears the words which were to change his life:

Do you see the light?

Do YOU see the light?

DO you see the light?

Do you see the LIGHT?

Do you SEE the light?

Heaven parts and Jake is surrounded with a beam of light and he answers:

Yes, Yes, I have seen the light!

After which he does four flips and a cartwheel and does some of the most amazing break dancing the world has ever s een from a 250 pound drug addict - or his stunt man.

Jake's epiphany is the revelation that he should put together his old band and go on the road to earn the money to help "The Penguin" pay the taxes. Money earned honestly through honest work.

Now, Jake and Elwood have a lot to learn, and I wish James Brown had been able to impress upon them the need for their hearts to truly change, but the point of the movie is not very different from the question each and every one of you face.

Do you see the light?

and

Are YOU on a mission from God?

Extending the thought a bit, we can ask:

WHAT is your mission?

and

How will YOU implement it?

We live in a dark world. But it has always been so since the fall of our historical parents, Adam and Eve. We look around and moan and complain that things have never been worse than they are today - that there is more crime, more poverty, more pollution, more irresponsible teen agers, more out of touch grownups, more materialism, more sexual immorality, more boring chapel messages - than ever before. But Solomon knew that every generation would understand when he wrote in Ecclesiastes:

That which has been is that which will be, And that which has been done is that which will be done.
So, there is nothing new under the sun.

(Ecclesiastes 1:9)

The forces of darkness are strong but they have ever been so. Satan has been given many names, but the one which I think most aptly describes him is "The Prince of Darkness."

This is not some fairy tale, some poetic rendering, some old wives tale - this is a description of a real being - not just a "force" - a being who is right here, right now in this room. For even in a place like Lexington Christian Academy, there are those who have eyes, hearts and minds which have been darkened by the "Prince of Darkness." They go by names like "Douglas Yeo" and those of each of you. The book of Romans tell us, For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. (Romans 3:23 ) We all have been polluted by his darkness.

And so the world lives, darkened and in despair.

But, as Jake was pierced by a beam from heaven when the Reverend James Brown kept demanding, Do you see the light?

We know the truth of THIS:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
He was in the beginning with God.
All things came into being by Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being.
In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness,
and the darkness did not comprehend it.

(John 1:1-5)

The darkness did not comprehend it. It could not overwhelm it, it could not snuff it out. It could not control it, change it, pervert it, twist it, maim it or claim it. For darkness hates light, and with light, there is no darkness.

While a student at Wheaton, where I was a bass trombone performance major in the conservatory of music, I was required to take the introductory Bible course called, at that time, "Christ in Culture." My professor, Dr. Herbert Jacobson, told us we would get extra credit on the chapter about Martin Luther if we memorized and then could recite the text to Luther's great hymn, A Mighty Fortress is Our God. And, being a person who needed all the help he could get - be it regular OR extra credit - I readily accepted the challenge. And I'm glad I did, for the words of some verse of this great hymn of the faith come back to me nearly every day as I struggle against darkness and call upon the light to push it back:

And though this world, with devils filled, should threaten to undo us,
We will not fear, for God hath willed his truth to triumph through us.
The Prince of Darkness grim, we tremble not for him; his rage we can endure
For lo, his doom is sure; one little word shall fell him.

And what is that word that can fell him who rules the world with darkness? It is the word of light, that of the great I AM who spoke Let there be light! and there was light. And when he spoke from the beginning of time that he would bring His light into the world over which the darkness would not - could not - overcome, he was speaking of that Light of the World, the one John spoke of who John the Baptist gave testimony of. As Luther's hymn reminds us:

Dost ask who that may be? Christ Jesus, it is he;
Lord Sabaoth his name, from age to age the same,
And he must win the battle.

This God who spoke light into being and who from the beginning - the very beginning - ordained that Jesus would come to banish darkness forever, is the very same God who Paul spoke of in Second Corinthians:

For God, who said, "Light shall shine out of darkness," is the One who has shone in our hearts
to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.

(2 Corinthians 4:6)

So, with this light we have hope, we have the promise of the banishment of darkness, but we also have a challenge. Jesus gave us the challenge in three consecutive verses in the Sermon on the Mount, words about light that offer you - those who are at the stage of your life where you are or will soon be earnestly seeking with all your hearts, minds and tuition dollars, what it actually IS that God wants you to do with your life - he offers YOU the greatest challenge that has ever been laid down:

You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden.

Nor do {men} light a lamp, and put it under a bushel, but on the lamp stand;
and it gives light to all who are in the house.

Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works,
and glorify your Father who is in heaven.

(Matthew 5:14-16)

You are on a mission from God.

Delivered to you directly from the mouth of God the Son - this flaming sword of truth, this challenge that I set before you again today. This mission is so critical but it is so often misunderstood and I'll tell you why.

I remember life in a Christian college. I loved my years at Wheaton. I transferred to Wheaton from Indiana University for the love of a girl - a girl who today is my wife of nearly 28 years. I thrived on the incredible love of the faculty toward me, of the unity of mind and spirit, of that incredible integration of faith and learning which was one of Wheaton's hallmark phrases. You know some of this here at Lexington Christian Academy. But there was something that often ate away at me despite all that good that came my way during my Wheaton experience.

Maybe things at Lexington Christian Academy are different, but is it only my imagination that remembers vividly the many chapel speakers who challenged me to "go into overseas missions" or "reach the world for Christ as a pastor" or "we need more church youth workers to disciple the next generation?"

I heard those challenges, I prayed fervently for God to lead and direct me. I wanted to be a servant, I wanted to fill those calls the chapel speakers made. I fasted, thought, searched the Scriptures, sought counsel and wore out the knees on my jeans because every time I asked God what He wanted me to do, He said, through the talents and abilities He gave me:

Play the trombone.

Now you will not find the word trombone in the Bible, at least not in the Bible as translated into English. The closest I can get is Martin Luther's translation of the Bible when he renders the word for "trumpet" as "Posaune" - the German word for trombone, or more literally, "large trumpet." Thus, 1 Corinthians 15:51 becomes, "Behold, I show you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed. In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the sound of the last trombone." And indeed, in the Boston Symphony Orchestra, I AM the last trombone, but I digress.

God said: Play the trombone.

And I struggled with that.

The pressure to enter full time "Christian ministry" was great. Nobody ever preached a chapel message on playing the trombone. But I heard dozens about foreign missions, about inner city missions, about seminary, about the pastoral ministry, about teaching missionary kids. It was the "Great Commission" that was constantly being thrown at me: Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age. (Matthew 28:19-20)

This was to be my work, I was told. GO - make - baptize - teach. And the vocational Christian ministry is a wonderful way to do that. My family and my wife's family have generations of ministers and missionaries in them who have done just that.

And if that is what God is telling you to do, then you must do it.

THAT is your mission.

But what if God is telling you to play the trombone, or paint with watercolor, or pump gas, or write novels, or drive a city bus, or, well, you fill in the blank. Are you - and I - missing something? Is the guilt that we have when we hear that challenge to change the world through full time vocational Christian ministry really justified?

The answer is found in the book of Romans, chapter 10, where Paul writes:

For WHOEVER WILL CALL UPON THE NAME OF THE LORD will be saved.
How then shall they call upon Him in whom they have not believed?
And how shall they believe in Him whom they have not heard?
And how shall they hear without a preacher?
And how shall they preach unless they are sent?

(Romans 10:13-15)

Now I know that this passage is often quoted by pastors who want a raise. After all, here we have Paul, arguably the greatest evangelist who ever lived, talking specifically about preachers and how important they are. But to read this passage so narrowly is to miss the point.

The issue is not preacher with a capitol P. The issue is preacher with a capitol U.

That's right. YOU. Because where are those who do not believe? Where are those who are in darkness? Where are those who do not see the light? Are they only in churches where pastors preach? Are they only in villages where missionaries toil and testify? Are they only in junior high youth groups where young leaders try to get through to the teen age mind?

No. They are in the Boston Symphony Orchestra. They are at Stop and Shop and Walgreens drugstore. At Starbucks. Wandering the halls of the Museum of Fine Arts and dancing on stage at the Boston Ballet. They are reading journals about architecture, magazines about sports cars, surfing the internet, they are walking into doctor's offices learning how to treat their diabetic child or hearing they have only months to live when that devil cancer is eating away at their liver.

All of those people need to see the light. Most will never darken the foyer of a church with their shadow. All of the full time Christian ministry workers in the world will not bring them to understand Christ because they are not where those workers are. They need the light, but how shall they hear without a preacher who comes to them?

You see, YOU are the preacher. It is an old cliche, but it is surely true: You are the only Bible many people will ever read. Your life is the living Word, Christ in you is the Christ they see. And God is preparing each of you - all of us - to be exactly where someone needs the light.

For while Jesus said, at the end of his earthly ministry, GO - make - baptize and teach, we ought not forget those words we heard a few minutes ago which he said at the beginning of his earthly ministry: Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.

Now, this is not a verse to give comfort to works based salvation. Rather it is a reminder that what we do matters to others. People are watching what we do. What we do and how we do it is a reflection of Christ in us. And this bit about "glorify your Father who is in heaven?" To me its very simple. Paul writes:

Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men.

(Colossians 3:23)

For when we do something for the Lord, we give him our very best.

Ah, our best. We do our work our best. Not because it's for men, or the boss, or the teacher, or even for ourselves - but because it's done for the Lord. And the Lord gets our first fruits, our very best.

When we do our best, our light shines before men in such a way that they may see our good works.

I play trombone in the Boston Symphony Orchestra. This obviously puts me in contact with people that YOU might never have a chance to talk to. Conductors, soloists, colleagues in other orchestras, students.. Now if I had decided to go into the full time pastoral ministry, there is no doubt that I would have had an opportunity to make the Light of Christ shine before many people.

But I can assure you, if I was a pastor at a church in Lexington, Massachusetts, I NEVER would have had the opportunity to talk with Seiji Ozawa about Jesus. Or Leonard Bernstein. Or a trombone player by the name of David who walked into my teaching studio 14 years ago and emailed me the other day that he had accepted Christ recently and wanted to thank me for the seed I planted in him all those years back.

You see, wherever you are there are people who need the Light. And the excellence with which we do what we do - as unto the Lord - gives us an opportunity to reach people we might not otherwise be able to reach. Excellence attracts those who want excellence. We do what we do as unto the Lord - WHATEVER we do. Whether it is play the trombone, or write those articles, or paint those pictures, or jump those hurdles or swing that bat or bale that hay, or counsel that unhappy couple, or teach that Sunday School class or even teach a college freshman music student what a Neapolitan sixth chord is. For in each of those callings - and indeed they are CALLINGS every bit as real and significant as being called to the foreign mission field - there are people you will meet and see and interact with who are longing to see the light. And because you listened to God when he said Let your light so shine before men you will have the opportunity to give them the greatest gift in the world. And you may be the only person God ever puts in their path who will tell them what they need to hear.

And why will they listen to you? Because you have credibility in their sight because: Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men.

You give your work your very best because your work is an offering for the Lord. And God is very concerned with the quality of our offering, make no mistake. When he asks for our first fruits, he does not want our leftovers. Let us never forget what he has done for us and why he did it.

For a world lost and dark, there is hope. The sacrifice of Christ on our behalf assures that God will look at us with Christ's righteousness credited to us. In Christ, we are spared the doom we deserve for our rebellion. In Christ, we receive the tender mercy of a God who demands justice and holiness. In Christ we, who are filthy with sin, are sanctified and declared righteous in his sight, exempt from the just wrath of a holy, righteous God. We are welcomed to God's bosom, wrapped in his love and forgiven.

When we consider this undeserved gift that God has given us, how can we give him less than our best?

This calling you have - whatever it may be - is honored by God. You need not feel that guilt that you are not doing what someone tells you you should be doing. You simply need to be in that place where God calls you - whether or not it makes sense to you or anyone else. Because God will have you, in the words of the old gospel song, "Brighten the corner where you are."

Let me leave you not with a conclusion, but with a question.

What kind of impact would be made in the world if in every profession, in every job, in every undertaking, the people who were all giving their best were those who knew Christ?

Do you think anyone would notice?

Do you think anyone would care?

Do you think anyone would listen to us when we spoke?

Do you think anyone would ask us WHY we do what we do?

Do you think it would make a difference if what we do, what we offer, what we craft, what we re-create, what we propose is done not for ourselves, or for our teachers, or for our boss, but as unto the LORD?

Think about it.

And then, just do it.

Because you have seen the light.


Scripture quatations are taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE, 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1973, 1975, 1977, by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.


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