Life or Death? I recently took a few moments to observe the mortality rates for the USA, which are charted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The most recent available data is for the calendar year 2010. Here’s what I found:
- Number of deaths: 2,468,435
- Death rate: 799.5 deaths per 100,000 population
- Life expectancy: 78.7 years
- Infant Mortality rate: 6.15 deaths per 1,000 live births
Number of deaths for leading causes of death:
- Heart disease: 597,689
- Cancer: 574,743
- Chronic lower respiratory diseases: 138,080
- Stroke (cerebrovascular diseases): 129,476
- Accidents (unintentional injuries): 120,859
- Alzheimer’s disease: 83,494
- Diabetes: 69,071
- Nephritis, nephrotic syndrome, and nephrosis: 50,476
- Influenza and Pneumonia: 50,097
- Intentional self-harm (suicide): 38,364
Look at it this way: If the average annual death rate is essentially 800 people per 100,000 in population, then we can expect approximately 1,600 people to die within our city limits (Grand Rapids, MI) this year (population: 190,411 in 2012). The current metro-Grand Rapids population recently crested at 1 million, therefore, we could estimate that 8,000 people in our neighborhood will leave this life in 2014. These statistics should give us great pause.
I recognize and rejoice that God is sovereign in salvation. The apostle Paul reveled in God’s gracious election of His people in Ephesians 1:3-8a:
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him. In love He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the beloved. In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace which He lavished on us.”
We praise our great God for choosing us, drawing us, and regenerating (bringing us to new life) us by the Spirit. We have been made alive together with Jesus Christ by the unmerited and unconditional favor of God! And yet, God has also commissioned us to go in the power of the Spirit to the ends of the earth with the Gospel, for the sake of His glory. Our purpose is clear and our mission simple.
But we tend to balk; don’t we? All-too-often we are sort of a like a baseball pitcher who winds up, steps forward, and forgets to throw the ball toward the plate. We rationalize. We complain. We get really “too” busy. Or even worse, we theologize our way out of following through on the mission of Jesus.
The great English Baptist missionary, William Carey, strongly believed in God’s sovereign grace in salvation. He firmly believed in God’s foreordained election of those whom He would call His own. Yet as a young man he attended a minister’s meeting and brought up the point that “it was the duty of all Christians to spread the Gospel throughout the world.” As the story is told, another minister in the meeting rebuked him with these chilling words:
“Young man, sit down; when God pleases to convert the heathen, he will do it without your aid and mine.”
I’m quite thankful to God that William Carey bluntly disregarded this man’s unbiblical theologizing and went on to translate the Bible into the very language of the people I ministered to in Andhra Pradesh, India (the Telegu language). Carey would later respond at length with the now famous treatise for modern missions entitled, “An Enquiry into the Obligations of Christians, to Use Means for the Conversion of the Heathens.”
In His sovereignty God has chosen you and me for the great mission of sharing the message and mercy of His Son Jesus Christ. Every day our neighbors, co-workers, and friends are heading toward death’s door without the hope of life forever with God. 8,000 people will face the cruelty and pain of death in my area of greater Grand Rapids this year. What about your city or locality? And so to echo Paul’s words, “How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher? How will they preach unless they are sent?” (Romans 10:14-15a)
God’s good news for the world goes forth through His Church – and that includes you and me. Let’s go!
Steps We Can Take…
- Pray. Ask the Lord of the harvest. We cannot accomplish anything of eternal significance or value without the power and strength of God. God’s mission is God-initiated. Pray He guides your steps and opens opportunities for you to share the message and mercy of Jesus. But get ready…
- Invest. Build a relationship. Take a moment out of the day – everyday for the next week – to talk with someone who is living without the life and hope of Christ.
- Invite. Bring someone to church. You might be surprised that most people are open to attending a church service during the Easter Celebration season. So let’s take this opportunity to bring them to a church home where they’ll hear the Good News of Jesus Christ.
Thanks for listening! I can’t wait to see how God’s mission will go forward through His people.