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June 13, 1999

MATHEW 28:16-30

My 47 years of ministry may be summarized in the word, "Go." I firmly believe the Lord calls all of us to "go." Go is a dominant theme of the Bible. The Lord said to Abraham, the father of our faith, "Go from your country to the land that I will show you." The Lord said to Moses, "I have heard my people cry in their slavery. Go to Egypt, confront the Pharaoh, and lead my people to freedom." The Lord said to Amos, "Leave your herds, leave your sycamore trees, and go preach to my people Israel." Jesus said to his disciples, "Go and make disciples of all nations."

And the Lord said to me, "Go." When I was 18, the Lord said, "Go, preach and pastor two rural Minnesota churches." The youth group of one of the churches is planning a reunion the end of July. Ellie and I plan to be there. After graduating from college, the Lord said, "Go to Japan and be a missionary teacher." I went for three years. After returning from Japan, Ellie married me and off we went to seminary in Evanston, Illinois. One summer, the Lord said, "Go to Texas," so off we went to Angora goat country where I preached in Rocksprings and Carta Valley. After graduating from seminary, we returned to Minnesota where our three boys were born. When I developed serious sinus problems and was threatened with chronic laryngitis, the Lord said, "Go to California." Thirty years ago, pulling a travel trailer, we came to California. Here in California, the Lord said, "Go to Palo Alto, Manteca, Modesto, and back to Palo Alto."

Six years ago, the Lord said, "Go to Merced." In May, before moving to Merced, I was the Spiritual Director of a Women's Walk to Emmaus which was held in Atwater Church. Friday evening, through a guided meditation, we were invited to picture Jesus and ask him two questions. After the group returned to the conference room, I went to the altar and wept. The tears just flowed. I asked two questions, "Will leaving Palo Alto be smooth, considering all the logistics, decisions, and farewells?" My second question was, "What will happen in Merced?" Merced Church was going through a crisis. The congregation was very angry with the bishop, and I was being sent to reconcile! I had a lot of apprehension and anxiety.

While I knelt at the altar that evening, praying and weeping, the assurance came to me that leaving Palo Alto would be smooth, that everything would work out. But, no answer came to my Merced question. The next morning I gave a talk. During the intermission, Marion Golden, formerly of Palo Alto and Oakdale who now lives in Turlock, told me that while I was speaking, she saw an aura around me-- a brilliant, white light. Then the Holy Spirit filled her from head to toe, flooding her with the message, "Tell Doug he will have a wonderful ministry in Merced." She gave me the answer to my second question! What a glorious time Ellie and I have had with you here in Merced. How special, how spiritual, how loving, how happy you are!

Besides geographically, I've been sent into unique forms of ministry. After seminary the Lord said, "Go to rural Minnesota and help design and implement a cooperative larger parish." Ten churches and four pastors worked as a team. Together, with a grant from the Women's Division of the Board of Missions, we hired a Parish Worker who worked in all ten churches in Christian education. We will visit her in New York this fall.

The Lord said, "Go, camp." In the Minneapolis and Palo Alto churches, I directed children and youth camps throughout the summers. 28 years ago, the Lord said, "Go, direct Family Camp." I jumped at the opportunity for our family to be together. What a blessing Family Camp has been! Last fall, our youngest son married Laura. They met at Family Camp. Many from Family Camp are here today.

While we were in Manteca, the Lord said, "Go get a Doctor of Ministry degree." Classes were arranged to fit a pastor's schedule. However, after I completed the class work, instead of writing the dissertation, the Lord said, "Change of plans! Go to Australia." We went to Australia for an incredible four month exchange.

12 years ago, the Lord said, "Go, walk to Emmaus," so I did. We don't physically walk, you realize. Countless lives have been changed and blessed through the Walk to Emmaus and Chrysalis, which is the youth version.

And so it goes. A few weeks ago, the District Superintendent called and said the Bishop wants to send me to pastor a troubled church! This time I said, "No way! I'm tired. We're taking a long trip. Call me next year!" I thought he was joking, but he wasn't.

I firmly believe the Lord also calls you to go. Perhaps geographically, like Nannette Stamm, one of our young adults who is now on a two-year mission to Cochabama, Bolivia, in very primitive living conditions, but she loves it. Who knows where the Lord wants you to go? Through Volunteers in Mission, you can go to Mexico, South America, even Russia. Dr. Ed Hughell recently went to Bolivia where he was able to spend time with Nannette. Our youth will travel all the way to Modesto this summer on a work mission to Wesley Church.

Even if you are not called to go somewhere else, you are called to do ministry wherever you are. We could go around the room this morning and hear fascinating stories of how the Lord is using folks in ministry. Don't waste your life. Go where the Lord sends you, and do God's work. You may not necessarily be called to be in the limelight. Perhaps others don't even know where you are called to go and what you are called to do. Foreground ministries cannot succeed without background workers and supporters.

Charles Plumb was a jet fighter pilot in Vietnam. After 75 combat missions, his plane was destroyed by a missile He ejected and parachuted into enemy hands. He spent six years in a Communist prison. One day Plumb and his wife were eating in a restaurant. A man came up and said, "You're Plumb! You flew jet fighters in Vietnam from the aircraft carrier Kitty Hawk. You were shot down!" Plumb was surprised the man knew him. "I packed your parachute," he said, "I guess it worked!" Plumb said, "It sure did. If your chute hadn't worked, I wouldn't be here today."

Plumb couldn't sleep that night. He hadn't recognized the man He wondered how many times he had seen him, but never noticed him, never said, "Good morning, how are you?" Plumb had never taken the time to inquire about or thank the man who packed his parachute. After all, Plumb was a fighter pilot, and the packer was only a sailor. Now Plumb asks people, "Who is packing your parachute?" Ministry would never happen if it weren't for all the quiet people in the background packing the parachutes. Don't ever think that what you do for the Lord is small or insignificant.

Where is the Lord calling you? What is the Lord calling you to do? Don't think you have little or nothing to offer. We all have mouths and we all know how to talk. Milton Cunningham was a missionary on leave when he flew from Atlanta to Dallas. Seated next to him was a young girl with Down's Syndrome. In all her innocence, she asked, "Mister, did you brush your teeth this morning?" A trifle awkwardly, Milton answered, "Well, yes, I brushed my teeth this morning." "Good," she said, "that's what you're supposed to do." Then she asked, "Mister, do you smoke?" "No," he replied. "Good, 'cause smoking will make you die." Then she asked, "Mister, do you love Jesus?" That was easy. Milton answered, "Well, yes, I do love Jesus." "Good," she said, "we're all supposed to love Jesus."

Just then, another man settled into the seat next to Milton. He began reading his magazine, but the little girl nudged Milton and said, "Ask him he if he brushed his teeth this morning." She kept nudging him until Milton said to his new neighbor, "Sir, I don't mean to bother you, but my friend here wants me to ask if you brushed your teeth this morning." The man was surprised, but when he saw her, he answered, "Yes, I brushed my teeth." With a sinking feeling, Milton realized where this was going when she asked if the man smoked. When she asked if the man loved Jesus, Milton protested that the question was too personal. But, the little girl insisted, so Milton said, "Now she wants to know if you love Jesus." The man put down his magazine, and with tears in his eyes began to tell Milton how meaningless his life was, how he was searching for something, how he needed God, but he didn't know where to turn. So Milton, the reluctant missionary, joyfully and gratefully began talking to the man about Jesus, and led him to the Lord.

We can all talk. We can all be sensitive to people around us, to be ready with encouragement.

We can all talk about Jesus. We can all pack parachutes.

We can all go wherever the Lord sends us. GO.

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© 1999 Douglas I. Norris