Saturday, September 18, 2010

The Gospel Unleashed

I just put this up at SBCImpact blog and thought some of you might like to see it here.

I sat, just a year and a half ago, with some of the most experienced apostles of our age. They had each been used by our Lord to change whole societies, impacted nations, and discipled hundreds who have in turn reached thousands for the Kingdom. I was eager to impress them, to be accepted, even admired by this group of men. I told a story of my going to a remote village, sharing powerful Bible stories, and moving hardened Muslim villagers to tears. I completed my story and took another bite of lunch expecting approving nods. Before the bread had reached my mouth a hand came across the table and slammed down into the middle of it. ‘Where was the Gospel?’ a man catty-corner across the table cried. ‘I didn’t hear the Gospel in that story!’ ‘Um…. what?’ I replied more than a little alarmed. He went on, ‘The Gospel! You want to tell stories to get people ready for the Gospel, to changed them, but ONLY the Gospel can change them. They can not change until you proclaim the Gospel.’

These words have deeply impacted me and the ministry the Lord has given me. We do over $250,000 of aid work each year (thank you to all who give to human needs funds and the Baptist Global Response). We serve others and I would dare even to say we love others well. But we accomplish nothing until we get to the truth of the Gospel. There is nothing more important. Yet, as I look around at our ministry and so many others like me I see us stopping short again and again. We seem to have so many messages to give. It seems that we have so much truth to share but when it comes to sharing the Gospel itself talking about it doesn’t come naturally. Just yesterday I lamented to a friend that sharing the Gospel would never be a natural thing since it is in fact a supernatural act!

But yesterday put action to my words here. I have been working in the remote village of Anfalas for several years. There, down on a desolate plain over looking Mordor is the poorest village in the poorest country in Middle Earth. Four years ago we saw two couples baptized there and their faith in the face of persecution and trial has been inspiring. But there has been a man there who has puzzled me. His son was miraculously healed 5 years ago. His daughter was likewise healed a couple of months later. He has heard much truth and has seen more of the power of God move in his village and his life than many of us will ever hope to witness. But he would not become a follower of Jesus. He could not because he was an alcoholic. Now, you might say that God could move in his life anyway, he perhaps should become a follower and then worry about giving up alcohol. I agree, but he could not. He knew what becoming a follower of Jesus would mean, he counted the costs and he was unwilling to give up the alcohol or face the persecution of his Muslim community. I saw him for the first time in two years yesterday. We had just prayed for a man with kidney stones and coming out of his house I was greeted by the former drunk. I did not at first recognize him. After greeting him and talking with him for a few minutes I realized that this was the drunk. Except, he was not drunk and had not been drunk for a long time. His face was relaxed, fleshy, and even joyful. His countenance could not be explained solely on the basis of his sobriety. He was a true follower of Jesus and the Spirit on him and in him was evident. He was not afraid to speak of his faith or the divinity of his savior in the presence of the community. We went and sat down to tea in Kili’s house and he told me of his experience.

He knew that Jesus was the truth. He had come to the end of himself and found that he had nothing left. He would not say, I think, that he ‘chose’ to follow Jesus. I don’t believe that he believes he had any ‘choice’ at all. (No, I am not a Calvinist for those wondering). For him there was a long crooked road that led to death and he had followed it almost to the end when he took the only road left to him that did not lead to eternal destruction. I think salvation is always like this but it is very rare to find someone who sees it so clearly. I asked him who Jesus was and he simply said that He was God. He was his God and he would follow him regardless of the consequences. There have already been quite a few consequences. He has been brow beaten and persecuted by the local mullah and his neighbors. He is standing very firm. His wife is overjoyed and can’t wait for them to be baptized together. Oh, and he has a job. He is the accountant for the county government office. How is that for an old alcoholic who hasn’t been able to keep a job for years upon wasted years?

The Gospel is a beautiful thing. When I asked my fellow workers about it they often can not tell me what it is in just a few words. But we must learn. We must strive with everything we have to understand it and explain it as simply and clearly as we can. It is ‘good news’. Now, I know that some people begin their presentation of the Gospel by explaining that there is bad news. We are sinners. Man is by his own foolishness separated from Almighty God. We are a cursed and suffering people. May I say that I have stopped describing this as bad news. It is not. My sister in law went to the doctor a few years ago with chronic back pain. He told her there was nothing wrong and that she would have to ‘live with’ the pain. She did not hear this as good news. She cried for a week. No, the ‘nice’ guy delivers no good news by telling the divorcing couple that they are fine, the alcoholic that God loves him just as he is, nor the homosexual that there is nothing wrong with him. The good news is that all of us ‘feel’ terrible but we were not meant to. It is indeed good news that you are not supposed to be hopeless, helpless, powerless, and joyless. The multitude of addictive behaviors driving you to break every loving relationship you have ever had is not the way you were meant to be. The good news is that God has made a plan and paid a horrific price to rescue you and restore you to His Kingdom. And His Kingdom has come. It is here. It was made possible by the death of Jesus on the cross and transferred bodily to you now by the power of His resurrection from the dead.

This is what we must be about proclaiming. This is the only message that makes a difference to those we have been called to serve. We must never stop short by giving good advice or providing moral guidance. People do not need to be moral, they need Jesus. Let us love them truly and sacrificially. Let us tell the world that we have one message and it is that God’s Kingdom has come and you are all invited. Let us tell them of Jesus clearly and unashamedly. When we can do that we will see many more broken people made whole and stand up as beautiful witnesses to the power of our Lord.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

It's Not About You: A Reprise

I first published this October 29, 2006. I am republishing it in remembrance of 9/11.

When our team reached Gondor we made a plan to get to the whole country with the message. Ithilian was mountainous and remote. The regional capital of Minas Ithil seemed very far away. Out in those mountains were six people groups who spoke different languages. In faith we began praying for a way to get there and people to answer the call to go. In 2001 Gimli and his wife Galadrial said they would go. It was like cutting off my right arm to help them get out there. Gimli and I had a singular vision of using disaster management to reach into the remote villages of Gondor.
But this post is not about what is comfortable, or strategic, and certainly not about what is practical. It is about what God is doing and a little bit of how he is doing it. If Ithilian is remote then Mordor was a wall. Minas Ithil sits on a river looking over to Mordor. It was locked in a permanent civil war. It was a strict muslim country where the work of the Kingdom was almost completely halted. One day Gimli left Minas Ithil to come and see us in Minas Tirith. It was a grueling twenty hour drive that he decided to do in two days. Gimli slept in a little village on the river that night and the next morning rising up very early which was his custom he prayed looking out over the river to Mordor. As he was lifting up the impossible situation in Mordor to the King he was surprised to hear the King answer him. It was not audible but just as clear as if it had been. "Do you see Mordor? I am going to change everything." Now, Gimli is not accustomed to dramatic supernatural events. He was very excited and drove all the way to Minas Tirith eagerly wanting to tell me all about what the King had said. When he arrived at my home he came in and immediately told me what had happened. He said that God was going to change everything in Mordor and that we would be able to get in at last. I told him that I had something to show him. I took him into our living room where the news was reporting the second tower coming down in the West. They were already making some Mordor connections on the news coverage. Yes, it was September 11, 2001. Gimli immediately looked at me and said, 'Well, that's it! The West will never stand for this. They will free Mordor and 20 million people will have access to the truth for the first time ever!'
Of course, that is exactly what happened. I know that the King had many lessons rolled up in that one event but I still think that the most important thing that happened was that His Kingdom was expanded. It will continue to expand. His truth will be taught in all nations among all peoples. He will be worshiped among every people, tribe, and tongue. Terrible things have happened and will happen but in the end it is not about us. It is about Him and His glory.

On Finding Water

In order to be in Gondor we need to do some kind of work. In order to have a visa in this Country we need to have a reason other than, 'we want to tell everyone about Jesus.' I do not make it a secret that I love Jesus and tell others about Him but they still wont give me a visa to do it. For that reason we do humanitarian work. Of course, we love doing humanitarian work. Jesus has called us to love people and in loving them we find that they need two things: a relationship with Him and a standard of living that will enable them to survive. We live in a very poor Country that needs multitudes of things. I hope we choose the things we do by listening to and obeying the Holy Spirit.

In order to hear His voice we pay attention to several things. One, we help people with some of their deepest felt needs. People may need sanitation but if they don't know this then there is no sense in providing it. We go to a community and asked them what they need rather than provide for them what is convenient for us to do. In following this line we have been asked repeatedly for fresh drinking water. Many people- possibly several hundred villages- need clean drinking water and are suffering greatly with water borne illnesses as a result of not having access to any. Two, we need a project that gives us sustained access. Many teams have come in and dropped off a load of much needed aid, prayed a quick prayer, and then moved on. This is somewhat helpful... sometimes, but a viable church is not likely to result from this. Too often people do aid work which makes them feel better and successful and humanitarian and even spiritual but if we measure success by lives impacted then these kinds of fly by night projects don't add up to much. We need relationship. So, digging multiple wells in villages has been very good for us. We have spent all summer in a remote village in the south, going down, spending the night, serving and being served. It has provided good ground for great conversation and the opportunity to share much love.

We have banged down the pipe for three wells so far. They are all in the lower end of the village. We need a way to get to the upper end but we need to beat the 25 feet of solid rock in order to get to the good water there. Its tough but that is ok, the longer it takes the more time we have to share.

This summer also gave me a great opportunity to get to know Beren a little better. He is the son of a co-laborer on the field who works with a different organization and the young man is courting my daughter Luthien. The two of them have just started their second year in University- he at Loyola and she at Liberty- and they came out to Gondor for the summer. He volunteered to work on our project and I put him to the test by getting his hands dirty digging deep useless holes in the ground while sharing Jesus in a remote village. He worked hard and was a good traveling companion. It tested his character and mine to work hard in 115 degree heat for six days only to abandon the hole as dry. Several holes were dug and abandoned before water was struck and he remained cheerful, prayerful, and a positive witness through out. He will need such tenacity if he wants to court my Luthien and as much patient endurance as is available through our blessed Holy Spirit if they one day marry.

We did find water, Beren with a lot of work and patience. And with equal work and more patience we may one day see the time when I walk her down an isle to meet you.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

The Truth

This is an old story that deserved telling long before now. Many years ago I taught English at a language institute with two other Westerners. We always had one person who spoke English a lot better than the rest of the students and we knew that person was likely a member of the security services keeping tabs on us. In each of our classes there was a lady. She was a very nice lady who signed up for all three of our classes and sat diligently in everyone never missing a class. She was the wife of the Deputy Mayor of our city and we were not sure if she just wanted to speak English or if she too was reporting on us.

Often at the end of class we would play Pictionary to let the students practice their English and have a little fun. One day it was the Deputy Mayor's wife's turn and she drew her card with the English word on it and went to the board to draw something that would encourage the class to guess the word. She drew a simple cross and stood there. The class called out, 'cross?' 'Intersection?' 'lines?' 'Give us something else, draw more!' They called and cried out and the lady just stood there staring at the board without moving. Finally, my fellow teacher called time and they moved on to the next word. After class he asked the lady what the deal was. Why was she so stuck? She said, 'My word was 'Truth'. I drew the cross and then I just stared at it. I could not get past the fact that this was THE truth. I couldn't think of anything but the cross.'

Being a political person as the wife of the Deputy Mayor she never told us outright that she was a Christian. But one day we were discussing how to appropriately pass out Christian literature in this very restrictive environment when suddenly she told us how she did it!

Today, Rohan is a dark police state and the believers there are under constant threat of arrest and persecution. I like to think that there is still a bright intelligent lady there who knows the Truth and is telling others about it.