Friday, August 31, 2007

Faith in a Great God

The year was 1941. A committed band of followers of Jesus Christ were ready to step out in faith like they never had before. But they were not the first.

Fifty-one years earlier a small but faithful group of 13 devoted men and women had taken the initial steps of faith that would later pave the way for generations to come. For in 1890, 13 saints took God at His word and planted and established a church in which they would worship their Savior. They set their sights, by faith, on reaching their community with the gospel of Christ Jesus. They pledged together to build up one another as the body of Christ. In only nine years the membership had grown to 98.

Fifty-one years later, even with the prospects of world-wide war looming directly on the horizon, the next generation followed in the footsteps of their forefathers. They approached Almighty God with their need for a new building. They came ready to take God at His word as they moved forward in faith.

And so, in 1941, with $1.83 in the treasury and a great faith in the power of God’s word, the members of the First Baptist Church in Ridgway, IL, purchased this piece of ground on which we gather together this morning, and began construction on this very building. And with members giving freely of their time and money, and with the help of donations from people of other denominations, they completed the building and burned their mortgage in just three years.

It’s a story not just about the history of Ridgway First Baptist Church, but a story about believers in Christ Jesus using their faith – and watching God do what would seem humanly impossible.

There is nothing that is too difficult for the Lord to do. “I am the Lord, the God of all mankind. Is there anything too hard for me?” (Jer. 32:27).

The Roman centurion knew this truth. That’s why he came to Jesus pleading with the Lord on behalf of his dying servant. He knew that Jesus had the authority to “just say the word” and his servant would be healed.

Matthew records for us that Jesus was astonished at this man’s great faith. Then He rewarded the man and healed his servant with just His word.

I wonder if the Lord marveled at the faith of the saints in Ridgway who stepped out in faith to do what they sensed the Lord asking of them. Had they sat down and counted their money, thought about the possibilities of war ahead of them and evaluated the situation on a human level, they never would have made the move. But I believe they knew that nothing is too hard for the Lord. They used their faith, and God rewarded.

Their testimony still echoes in the church today. I pray that we will keep following in these same footsteps of faith. Whatever the call. Wherever He leads. Whomever He sends. He is the Creator of all things, who spoke the heavens and the earth into existence. He is the God of all mankind, who breathed into man the breath of life. He is the Savior of all nations, who came in love to rescue a dying people.

J. Hudson Taylor is quoted as saying, “It’s not so much a ‘great faith’ that we need, but faith in a great God.” Our God is a great and mighty God, with all things under the authority of His command. Nothing is too hard for Him!

How great is your God? Use your faith!

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

For my cleansing, this my plea

Here two women in a small village are doing their laundry the old-fashioned way. It’s the same way they plant and harvest their crops - by hand.

I had the opportunity to take an afternoon with our team to prayerwalk through this village. We were fascinated enough simply by their way of life. We were more profoundly fascinated by their need to know the Savior.

I recall seeing these women going about their daily business of washing their clothes, and I was led by the Lord to pray something along these lines: “Father, even as these women wash the dirt and stains from their clothing in this river, I pray that one day they will experience the cleansing touch of Jesus Christ who alone can wash away the dirt and stain of sin from their hearts by His blood.”

What can wash away my sin?
Nothing but the blood of Jesus!
What can make me whole again?
Nothing but the blood of Jesus!

Oh! Precious is the flow
That makes me white as snow
No other fount I know
Nothing but the blood of Jesus

The Bible says that “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness” (Heb. 9:22). Jesus testified before His disciples on the night of the Passover, the eve of His crucifixion, as He took the cup, gave thanks, and offered it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Mt. 26:27-28). And He went out and shed His own blood on the cross that we may be saved from the death wages of sin. “For my pardon this I see, nothing but the blood of Jesus. For my cleansing this my plea, nothing but the blood of Jesus.” I can’t think of a greater joy in all the world than to know that my sins have been forgiven!

I bow in awe before God who put His great love on display in sending His Son to die on the cross for sinful man. For it’s only in Christ that “we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace” (Eph. 1:7). And in our Savior who rose in triumph over the grave, we also know the hope of heaven, for “whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).

This is what I pray these villagers will come to understand. I pray for the ones God will send to tell them of His love and give them the words of eternal life. May they find that “nothing can for sin atone, nothing but the blood of Jesus.”

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Jesus in the Classroom

Perhaps one of the most ironic experiences of our two-week mission trip was the experience of telling the Good News of Jesus in the classroom. Not that we walked through the doors the first day and started handing out Bibles or preaching through John's gospel. But as we taught the students English, there were opportunities that arose to speak about our faith in Christ Jesus.

This indeed was what we had been praying for. Yes, we wanted to do a good job of teaching, and we were well-prepared for it. But more importantly we wanted to teach about the grace of God through Jesus our Savior.

Let me share a couple of experiences I had personally. One of my classes dealt with “Occupations.” I presented some job titles and basic work descriptions to the students to help them with their vocabulary. I also gave the students an opportunity to write what they would like to be. In the course of the conversation they asked what job I do.

As we taught the students through our lesson plans, each of us were encouraged to also consider ways in which we might engage the students to ask questions that we could answer with the opportunity of telling about Jesus, giving our testimony or sharing our faith. This was one such moment.

I replied that I am a teacher. I wasn’t sure if saying “Pastor” would have been appropriate in that setting, yet I didn’t want to close this open door. They followed up with questions about what I teach and where. Smile. The door was opening wider. I was then able to tell them that I didn’t teach in a school, but in a church. I also had to briefly describe what a church was. This wasn’t real easy. I had to talk about and gesture to communicate prayer and worship, trying to use their word for God. Since there are no (zero) churches in this area, most did not have any frame of reference for what a church is. Eventually I think they got the concept, at least conceptually.

Then I was able to tell them that I don’t teach a subject like math or science, but I teach people the Bible. I tried to explain that I teach about who God is and His plan for people all over the world. I introduced God’s Son to them and attempted to talk about Him, how He gives those who believe in Him peace and joy and salvation. I’m not sure how much they understood, but they will forever know that they heard this American tell them (for the first time) about Jesus.

Another open door came when one of the students asked what festivals we celebrate in America. I started with Christmas. Smile. This wasn’t the time to talk about Santa Claus and reindeer. I asked if they knew why we celebrate Christmas. No one responded. This allowed me the opportunity to again talk about Jesus as the reason for our festival. I attempted to communicate as clearly as I could with them about why Jesus came to earth and His purpose for dying on the cross. Some of them knew something vaguely about the cross. I even went so far as to try to explain what sin was – it actually became quite humorous trying to act out for them stealing and lying to enforce that point. Then I could share with them that Jesus came to forgive men for their sins and make us right with God, and so to live forever in heaven.

I’m only hoping and trusting that God will use whatever I said, whatever they heard, to draw them unto Himself. I made sure to write the name “Jesus” on the chalkboard so they could see and remember it. Maybe some of them wrote it down.

One other girl asked me once who my hero was. That one was easy. Smile again. I walked to the chalkboard and circled the name “Jesus” that was already written there. The best I could I tried to explain why Jesus was my hero. I hope they caught my heart even if they couldn’t catch my words.

In the opening paragraph I used the word “ironic” in describing this experience of telling two classes of 60-70 students each about my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. In America where the right to freedom of speech is our first Constitutionally amended right, if I were to speak about Jesus in a classroom here they way I did there, well, I wonder what might happen. Hopefully somebody would get saved. Smile!

The students were such a joy to teach, with eager minds and respectful, attentive attitudes. I walked into the class for the very first time to a loud round of applause. They were genuinely thrilled to have a foreigner in their classroom. They showed courtesy and kindness to each of our team, and showered us with gifts in appreciation. My heart’s desire is that others will come behind us, watering where we planted, nurturing the seed until it blossoms in the hearts of these precious young men and women. And perhaps they will be the generation that carries the light of the gospel of Christ Jesus back to their homes and villages and throughout their country, and maybe, into the still unreached uttermost parts of the world.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Worship on the Mountain

One of the highlights of our recent overseas mission trip was the Sunday morning we worshipped the Lord God on the side of this mountain. There’s something majestic about praising God while surrounded by the beauty of His creation. There’s something thrilling about being in a spiritually darkened land on the opposite side of the globe singing “One day every tongue will confess You are God, one day every knee will bow; still the greatest treasure remains for those who gladly choose You now.” There’s something special about praying and reading God’s Word and eagerly anticipating the day when such worship rises up to heaven not from a group of foreigners on the side of the mountain, but from the hearts and lips of the people in their own homes, on the city streets and in the public square.

The Scripture we read that bright morning was 2 Corinthians 3:18: “We all, with unveiled faces, are reflecting the glory of the Lord and are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory; this is from the Lord who is the Spirit.” This is our great desire – that the glory of the Lord would radiate from us in such a way that the people would see the light of Christ and be drawn to Him. Certainly we cannot speak their language, and any verbal communications will be somewhat limited. But as we allow the Lord’s glory to reflect in our faces, our eyes, our smiles, our touches, our gentleness, our compassion, our humility, our joy, our peace, our kindness, and our love, we trust that His Spirit will begin the work of transformation in their own hearts into the very image of Christ Jesus.

This was our second day in this town, and though we had seen a glimpse of the city from the ground level, our vantage point from above was spectacular. Let me share what I recorded later that evening in my journal:

“The view overlooked the city, and I was swept into a great desire for Almighty God to reach down and bring His salvation to this entire city. Our team is growing in support and love for one another, just as we are growing in love for this people. God, how I pray that You will break through. Hearts that have been darkened and ignorant for so long are so needing to hear of Your wondrous love. Break through to reveal Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, so they will believe and be saved.”

This continues to be my prayer for this people group. Will you join me in asking the Lord of glory to shine forth with the light of salvation in such unreached parts of the world?

“You said, Ask and I’ll give the nations to you, O Lord, that’s the cry of my heart. Distant shores and the islands will see Your light, as it rises on us.”