By Dr. Josh Phillips
The year was 1969. Richard Nixon was inaugurated the 37th President, the Beatles released their iconic album “Abbey Road, “” Midnight Cowboy” played in movie theaters, the courts convicted Muhammad Ali of evading the draft, and three hundred-fifty thousand people showed up at Woodstock. In 69, the birth of Jennifer Aniston, Brett Favre, Ken Griffey Jr., Ree Drummond (Pioneer Woman), Jennifer Lopez, Jay Z, and Jase Robertson (Duck Commander) also occurred.
For many, the summer of ‘69 was, as recording artist Bryan Adams would say, “the best days of their lives,” but for many the summer of ‘69 was horrific. The Manson family went on an infamous murder spree in Hollywood, California. The nation still mourned the assassinations of Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr., and the mysterious and tragic death of Mary Jo Kopechne at Chappaquiddick, involving Senator Edward Kennedy, plastered the headlines.
During this busy summer, one event gave the nation some optimism. The United States recently celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of this incredible event — the landing on the moon. The very thought of landing an oddly-shaped capsule and walking on the moon amazes all of us, even today. It was even more extraordinary for those sitting in their living rooms watching the events unfold through their black and white tube televisions. It is still inspiring to hear Neil Armstrong’s recorded voice saying the famous words, “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” The mission to go to the moon came to fruition in 1969 but began many years earlier. The project went into overdrive with the charge of President John F. Kennedy.
Kennedy delivered many speeches during his very short time as president, urging the nation to explore a new frontier and accomplish what many considered the impossible. JFK delivered one of his most famous speeches, making the case for journeying to the moon, at Rice Stadium in Houston, Texas, on September 12, 1962. During this speech, now historically known as the “Moon Speech,” he eloquently painted an oratorical picture of courage. His speech highlighted the undeniable fortitude of pioneers in discovery and exploration and emphasized that any endeavor that moves us forward requires determination and a refusal to be denied.
He illustrated various examples of great accomplishments that changed human history. He also listed Gutenberg’s Printing Press, Newton’s discovery of gravity, and the inventions of the automobile and lightbulb as contributions of progress and courage. JFK he quoted pioneers such as William Bradford, founder of the Plymouth Bay Colony, “All great and honorable actions are accompanied with great difficulties, and both must be enterprised and overcome with answerable courage.” Though many of Kennedy’s historical assumptions declared in his speech are not in complete harmony with a biblical worldview, they are in line with the moral reality that anything worth achieving requires a refusal to give up.
Later in his speech, he went on to make his famous inspirational statements about overcoming hard challenges. Kennedy said, “We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things (accomplishments and aspirations), not because they are easy, but because they are hard.” He underscored his determination with these words: “Because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win.” Six years after Kennedy’s tragic assassination, we won the race to the moon. Kennedy eloquently commissioned a nation to commit itself to flights beyond the imagination, and the moon became the frontier conquered.
President Kennedy challenged Americans to “go to the moon.” Likewise, Jesus Christ commissions His church to go to the nations (Matthew 28:19-20). The commission of Christ surpasses all challenges that any human can conceive. A rocket journey to the moon is fascinating, but a commission to share the gospel to the nations goes beyond fascinating and reaches heavenly horizons.
Our Lord set the impossible bar in human terms. The disciples had no airplanes, iPhones, satellites, or social media. Neither did they have a complete printed Bible, but they went to the nations. In our day, the finger touch of an icon and the click of a mouse will allow us to explore and engage the world. God has brought the nations close to us; therefore, we must be willing to engage our world.
Though we are closer together, there remains many dividing lines within our culture: white, black, democrat, republican, rural, urban, Christian, and non-Christian. So many differences: southern folk, northern folk, country folk, east coast, west coast, blue-collar, country club, CNN, and Fox News. The list can be unending. All live nearby, but it seems we are light years apart. It is as if those who are not like us, “live on the moon.” As we live within our social, religious, racial, and economic divides, the Great Commission of Jesus seems more daunting by the moment. We must realize the early church experienced the same challenges. Telling people about Jesus is hard in any century!
God calls us to hard things. God, in all reality, asks us to do impossible things, but not without His Spirit. It was hard then, and it is hard now to fulfill the Great Commission. However, as Kennedy made clear, we do these things because they are hard. Anything worth accomplishing takes determination and a refusal to be dismayed. I see this play out in my own life. I always witnessed to people that looked like me and traveled in my circles. As a pastor, I salted salt and lived as light in illuminated places, spending most of my week ministering to church people and witnessing to those that came into my world: the easy tasks of the Great Commission.
As I studied the book of Acts, the Lord convicted me to “go to the moon.” God spoke particularly through the story of Peter and Cornelius (Acts 10). Peter received a commission to go to the nations, but God had to put him to sleep on a tanner’s roof so he could wake him up to reality. Going to the nations meant going to a Gentile house; going to “those people!” Peter, in the end, went to that Gentile house, and God transformed their lives. I believe God showed me that I needed to seek different people and share the gospel with whomever I meet, though it is uncomfortable and hard. God opened the door soon after.
There is a gas station in my hometown that is owned and operated by two Indian men. A friend and I were discussing the prices of gas going up at that time. I told him that this establishment sold the cheapest gas around. My friend irritably countered that he was not going to support an Indian-owned establishment and that he only supported American-owned establishments. I wondered why he assumed they were not Americans because they were Indian, and his view was wrong on so many levels. Nevertheless, God used that conversation amazingly and pushed me in that direction. He convicted me to go to them. I intentionally started buying my gas there for the sole purpose of sharing Jesus with those Indian men.
Over the next three years, I developed a friendship with one of the men. I introduced myself and began a gradual process of getting to know him. His name is Sunny. Moreover, he is Hindu. I must admit that it felt awkward at first, but over the years, we developed a great friendship. At Christmas, my wife makes him cookies. On his birthday, we buy him birthday cards. He now gives me holiday cards throughout the year. He spoils my children with lollipops and gum. Eventually, he found out that I am a minister and began to talk about religion with me. Through years of invitations, conversations, and Christ-like love, we made great gospel strides. He now logs in each week and listens to me preach on our church website. Sunny has not received Christ as Savior yet, and we do not know the end of the story. I believe Sunny will one day become a follower of Jesus. My job is to engage, love, and share Jesus with him, while the Holy Spirit performs the miracle. Sunny lived on the moon to me. Despite all my imperfections, I obeyed God for once and went to the moon.
Where is the “moon” in your life? Your “moon” might be Starbucks, not Chick-fil-A. Your “moon” might be Target, not Walmart. For the record, I love the Christian chicken and Wal-Mart. While there are plenty of lost people in those places too, avoid staying in your safe environment with your tribe, but go to the places where those who are not in your tribe go. Maybe instead of boycotting establishments, God is calling you to saturate them. How can we best reach the people in that world? Go to the “moon.” Strive to find ways to engage people that do not speak your language. They may not eat your food or vote for your candidate, and they may be on the moon in your mind. Choose to do it, not because it is easy, but because it is hard.
Josh Phillips is the associate pastor of Pleasant View Baptist Church in Port Deposit.