Friday, March 02, 2007

Reflections on the Recent Trip to Southeast Asia

Well, I'm trying to get back in stride here at the church and with life in Cayman. It's been a great couple of days back. I returned to the same loving family and congregation that sent me off nearly ten days ago. It's wonderful to return to such love and care.

I also returned in time to see a precious young couple from our church leave for a life of overseas service in the Gospel. We had their ordination service the Sunday we left for southeast Asia. And yesterday, we met them at the airport for a time of prayer and send-off. The young man look at me and said, "I feel like we're tag-team wrestling for the Gospel as you're returning and we're leaving." I love the image... tagging one another, taking turns combatting darkness with the light of the Gospel. And it's such a tremendously humbling, encouraging, faith-building, worthy, sad and joyous thing to see men and women give their lives for the Gospel in so committed a fashion. What a privilege.

The 10 days or so in southeast Asia were packed! The first night there was the night of the Christian-Muslim dialogue. We were discussing the question "Who Is Jesus Christ? In Light of the Bible and the Qu'ran". This is a topic that the muslims insisted on... and so we happily obliged! As far as the folks there are aware, this is the first time that this question has been openly discussed in a public forum by Christians and Muslims in any country in that region. A couple hundred folks (90% Muslim) turned out on just three days advertisement. Nearly 100 ESV Bibles were distributed. And to be sure, this is the first time most of them have heard the Gospel proclaimed in person.

The rest of the week was a blur! We spent several days interacting with college students on two campuses in the region. I had the privilege of preaching two sermons and doing a Q&A session on the dialogue at a local church. It was wonderful rejoicing in the Gospel with about a 1,000 believers from all nations in that region! It was just powerful looking out on so clear a manifestation of the Gospel's power as reflected in the tremendous diversity and unity of that body in Christ. And we ended the trip with a church-sponsored conference on evangelism. T.V. Thomas, an evangelist who now resides in Regina, Canada, served as the keynote. Due to another speakers' illness, the privilege of pinch-hitting on the topic "How to and how not to witness to Muslims" fell to me. That was a lot of fun.

Aside from the joy of serving with brothers and sisters there, I've left southeast Asia still processing several impressions and thoughts. Without much elaboration and in no particular order, here they are:

1. Islam is not impregnable. The Lord is at work! We need to pray for more laborers and that they would be bold to open their mouths with the gospel as they ought, but we really need to drop any impression that Islam is a steel door shut tight to the Gospel. It certainly is nothing of the sort.

2. There are many who are paying high costs to follow Jesus. Being there and interacting with a number of people who have come to faith in Christ out of Muslim backgrounds really blazed that across my mind. Our conversations weren't about whether God wanted them to take this or that job or NPP or emerging/emergent. They were counting the costs of telling family and friends that they were followers of the Lord--costs that ranged from being disowned to being killed by those same family and friends. To see their faith and commitment in such circumstances impressed upon me the shallowness of my own service to and identification with the Lord.

3. In the words of Piper, "risk is right." There's no two ways about it. It is good and right for us to take bold, faith-filled risks for God's glory and the spread of His name to all nations. And in point of fact, we're the only ones who can safely take such risks because we actually risk nothing eternal and can only receive glory with our Savior.

4. The Gospel is the power of God. Be confident in it. T.V. Thomas at one point in the evangelism conference stated that he thought the greatest risk to the gospel was that so many were not confident in it. I think he's on to something there. Romans 1:16 is still true. What vascillates is our confidence and reliance upon that truth.

5. I mentioned this earlier, but I was struck afresh by the glories of God revealed in His church. And I'm struck with the rightness of a church comprised of people from every nation united in their worship of the one true God. The church is a secondary doctrine, but the life of the church together is anything but secondary! There is a difference between the importance of the doctrine (formal systematic and biblical statements) and the living, abiding thing itself. And doing the living, abiding thing well is of utmost importance

6. I fear too much and am too often in fear.

7. Regard no man from a worldly point of view. My friend Mack, who also spoke at the evangelism conference, did a fabulous job of expounding 2 Cor. 5. I was convicted at how often I think of men in fleshly terms, and how often that prevents me from regarding them from God's vantage point, and how often that causes me to bottle up the Gospel and love from them. How easy it is to see the beards, the robes and head gear, and to think of them with something less than God's viewpoint. Lewis' words kept ringing in my head: "You have never seen a mere mortal." Amen. And I need to stop regarding men from a worldly viewpoint

8. Hold the rope. You all will know the famous story of William Carey and Andrew Fuller. Carey went to India to reap a Gospel harvest and Fuller stayed behind to excite support for the missions effort. Fuller's words: "We saw that there was a gold mine in India, but it seemed almost as deep as the center of the earth. Who will venture to explore it? "I will go down," said Mr. Carey to his brethren, "but remember that you must hold the ropes." We solemnly engaged to do so; nor while we live, shall we desert him."

9. Darkness is really dark indeed. This was so evident in some of the conversations I had with Muslim friends. They were lost in the darkness of their own minds and hearts. Their reasoning was confused, proud, and self-serving. This, of course, was not because they were Muslims but because they are like all of us who once walked according to the ways of this world, according the prince of the air, as children of wrath. That darkness is deeply dark and nothing but the light of Christ can pierce it. See #4.

10. Love is necessary. On the plane ride back, I began reaing Alexander Strauch's little book, Leading with Love. So much of the ministry in southeast Asia and the ministry in the local church would be "clanging cymbals" if it lacked love. At times, the Lord allowed me to see plainly when I was moved with love and when I was moved with pride or fleshly comfort. I could hear the clanging by God's grace. I'm struck by how love for Christ, His people, and the lost are so essential to everything. And I'm struck by how much farther I have to go in having and demonstrating the love of Christ.

We'll know in eternity what this labor produces to the glory of God. But right now, I'm thankful to all of you who sent notes of encouragement and to all of you who prayed for the trip. And right now, I'm more sure than ever that the Gospel ministry is the most important service to mankind and that our selling all for this great treasure is the wisest investment. May the Lord bear much fruit!


Andy Thompson said...

Thank you for your work and I praise God that He used you in such a powerful way. I rejoice over what God did through you.

Clif Cummings said...

Thank you for his post. Especially the words in point 7. God has used them in my life today!

By His Grace - ALONE

Always Giving Thanks said...

Upon reflection, it looks as though your trip was a resounding success in so many ways. Oftentimes, the benefit that we appreciate most is the change within ourselves. I pray that God will continue to guide your growth and development in the way that He will have you to serve Him. Amen.

Towards the end of your reflections, you referenced 1 Corinthians 13:1. How appropriate to reference such a powerful passage for a global mission, but if I may, I would like to direct your attention further down to 1 Corinthians 13:9-10. What do we know of God’s plan and the capacity of the human spirit? As you reference above, Lewis states "You have never seen a mere mortal." (Genesis 1:27). Despite the confines of the material world, the human spirit is able with God’s help to rise above the physical realm to defy space and distance to achieve and show love (1/26). What is a thought? What is a prayer? Amazing indeed!

Your reflections, especially numbers 6 and 7, further call to mind 1 John 4:18. As humans, what do we know of perfection? I myself know very little about it and have a lot of growing to do. All the same, we strive to achieve the mark that is ever beyond our grasp. I pray that we all will strive for perfect love. I believe it is more attainable than we realize. But if we fall short, we achieve love and mutual understanding all the same, so we are blessed. Your work, your ministry is a sweet blessing to many whose lives you touch. I believe you are correct when you say that “the Gospel ministry is the most important service to mankind.” What more powerful and wonderful a message is there (1 Corinthians 13:13)! I pray that you are able to walk fearlessly, my brother. You are doing good work. And through perfect love, I believe that your effectiveness as an instrument of God can only be magnified exponentially, propelling you ever-forward with minimal effort and suffering on your part. We strive indeed. Amen.