By Marilyn Stewart
NEW ORLEANS — Giving one’s life as a “blank check” to God may seem like extraordinary devotion, but according to International Mission Board President David Platt the commitment to go wherever God leads is the “elementary essence of what it means to follow Christ.”
Platt’s comments came during the opening service of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary’s annual Global Missions Week Nov. 7. The three-day missions emphasis coincided with the annual IMB trustee meeting and missionary commissioning service in New Orleans.
Before Platt spoke, NOBTS students, faculty and staff gave more than $10,000 in a special offerings collected in light of recent IMB cutbacks. During the missions emphasis week at NOBTS, IMB missionaries and personnel met with students over coffee or lunch and spoke in classes, chapel and in focused breakout sessions.
Underscoring his meaning of “blank check,” Platt pointed to the morning news headlines of flooding in Yemen, fighting in Iraq, and increased persecution of Christians in Pakistan.
“To be clear, when you say ‘wherever’ to God, you’re saying I’ll go and take my family to Yemen, Iraq, Pakistan. I’ll go into the heart of ISIS. I’ll go into Boko Haram territory of West Africa. I’ll go wherever you want me to go,’” Platt said.
But calling on believers to give God a “blank check” commitment is not a responsibility he takes lightly, Platt said.
“My perspective on these things totally changed a year ago when I stepped in to this role and I realized that whenever I see news headlines like these on a daily basis, people I’m responsible for are living in or near most all these places,” Platt said.
Platt described the moment years ago when as an NOBTS student the weight of his theological studies and a world without Christ came together in a “massive collision” that shook him to the core.
“If I believe this Word and this is the world I live in surrounded by massive need, then my life just couldn’t look the same,” Platt said. “Casual, nominal, cultural Christianity makes no sense if this Word is true and this is the world I live in.”
Recognizing that a blank check commitment can be frightening, Platt pointed to Matthew 4:10 and urged listeners to understand who the “me” is in the “follow me” commandment.
Like a diamond that sparkles when turned in the light, Matthew’s portraits of Jesus in chapters 1-4 give a rich understanding of “the me you follow,” Platt said. Platt listed these portraits of Jesus: Savior; Messiah; Son of David; Son of Abraham; the center of all history; fully human; fully divine; the New Adam; the True Israel; Light of the World, and ten others.
Pointing to Jesus as “Sovereign over the wise,” Platt said the Magi came from the East and bowed at Jesus’ crib, adding, “The Sovereign over the wise is Shepherd of the weak.”
The Christ presented in scripture is worthy of adoration and following with complete abandon, Platt said.
“If there’s any fear in your heart about putting a blank check on the table, I just want to remind you who you’re giving the blank check to,” Platt concluded. “You can trust him. When you realize who he is, you realize the utter foolishness of putting any conditions on obedience to this King … Followers of Jesus don’t always know where they’re going, but they always know who they’re with.”
Pray like it matters
Gordon Fort, IMB Vice President, Prayer Mobilization and Training, urged listeners in chapel the following day to “pray like it matters.”
Fort told of his ache for America and his observation that the church has become people of God without the power and the presence of God.
“Brothers and sisters, the world in which we live doesn’t need a mediocre Christianity,” Fort said. “They are desperate to know that you have a faith that works. They are desperate to know that you have a belief that makes a difference.”
Fort showed a photograph of a baptism taking place in a frozen lake in Western Siberia and told of the pastor who left home with his family to share the gospel in the barren land. Fort said he once shared this photograph at a speaking engagement and a woman came up to him, crying. The woman, a retired state WMU executive, told Fort she once prayer walked in Western Siberia more than a decade earlier and had developed deep burden for the region.
“She said she’d been praying for 15 years that God would send someone to take the gospel into that area and then said, ‘Until you shared your report, I had no idea how God had answered that prayer,’” Fort said, relating the woman’s story.
“Friends, when you make a petition, an entreaty of God, when you care about the soul of a lost person to the extent that you will pray for 15 years without an answer, then you are praying like it matters.”
Prayer unleashes the power of the gospel to break the shackles of sin so the gospel can be effective, Fort said.
“So, if you’re going to pray, pray like it matters.”
‘Jesus for the Hard Places’
Nik Ripken, author of two books on the persecuted church, “The Insanity of God” and “The Insanity of Obedience,” told listeners that personal sorrow while serving in Somalia put him on a journey to find out if “Jesus was for the hard places” of life.
Ripken said he decided that the way to find out was to go to Christians suffering persecution.
After hundreds of interviews, Ripken said he learned that those who are persecuted know: Jesus; the power of prayer and fasting; scripture; songs of faith committed to memory; that others are praying for them; that they are suffering for Jesus; and that persecution is normal.
“What they taught me is that persecution is like the sun coming up in the east; it’s normal,” Ripken said.
Ripken said interviewing persecuted Christians was like “walking with Simon Peter or Lydia.”
“You should hear them talk about Jesus. You should hear them pray.”