It is Sunday July 22 and I am in Sweden as I write this. I am teaching at a Chinese Discipleship Camp for Chinese for those living in Scandinavian countries. It has been a wonderful week interacting with all these precious people.
I walked in only knowing two people while having never met the other 74. After just one day, I felt like I was around family that I had known my whole life. While I had no idea what I was going to encounter here, it has been more than a wonderful experience. It is an experience I will never forget.
Today, a group of Afghan and Iranian refugees joined us for our Sunday worship service. Some of them are followers of Jesus while others are a mixture of other beliefs. Said (pronounced: Saeed), originally from Iran, is a brother serving these refugees in the city nearby. Talking with him today, I learned of an incredible thing God is doing here in Sweden through these refugees.
Juan is my father-n-law. He is from Puerto Rico and 89 years old. He is a retired school teacher that will retire from his second career later this year, as a pastor of a small Hispanic church in Central Florida. As I write this, I am sitting in his hospital room spending the night to help him.
A few days ago, we arrived in Florida so my wife could spend time with her parents as I jet off to Sweden to teach at a Chinese discipleship retreat. Yet, the day we arrived, my father-n-law was taken to the hospital. While going to the hospital at anytime has a level of stress, this day made it especially stressful for us.
The day we arrived, the day Juan entered the hospital, was the first anniversary of my sister-n-laws unexpected death. The day she died, my family and I were 1.5 hours away from arriving at in-law’s home. We had planned to spend three weeks with them and relax. Yet with only 1.5 hours from arriving, we received the dreaded phone call that my sister-n-law was rushed to the hospital, where she died before we arrived. The pain of that day together with the phone call about Juan being taken to the hospital caused a lot of fear and stress.
I have heard a number of sermons and teachings on the Great Commission and the two Greatest Commandments. What I do not often hear much of is how the three work in tandem and how they are inseparable with one another. Sure, some talk about it but I do not find it taking place as much as one might think, at least not from my perspective. And yes, I am guilty of this thing.
At many mission conferences, the Great Commission is the central theme, and I get it. Believers come together to learn about and share how God is working among the nations. We talk about the need to send more missionaries to the farthest corners of the globe. We tend to focus on some of the famous Great Commission verses like Matthew 18:19-20, Mark 16:15, Acts 1:8, and Matthew 24:14. If we do not use one of these passages, some use Genesis 12 where God called Abram to go to a land he did not know.
This past Sunday, I had the privilege of sitting and listening to a brother in Christ give his testimony. He appeared relaxed before he spoke but was clearly nervous as he spoke. But, he did not need to be nervous. His testimony is a beautiful masterpiece displaying the amazing work of God’s love, grace & mercy working in tandem.
Some fellow believers might say that some backgrounds are worse than others but we all need God’s salvation. Untrue! Every sin we commit is equal in our betrayal against God. Every sin might have a different consequence on this earth but no sin has a different consequence in eternity. And, that is what matters most.
“Persecution is a good thing”, said Tom. Tom is a house church pastor in Asia that I have known since 2009. Tom was referring to a new law that recently went into effect in his country. In essence, this new law increases restrictions and punishments for those involved in unsanctioned religious activities (aka: house churches). In all fairness, it does not strictly target Christians, but they do have a giant bulls eye on their back.
"My father sought the Truth, and died without finding it.
Oh why did you not come sooner?" – Mr. Ni.
Mr. Ni was a Buddhist in the 1800’s. He made this statement and asked this question to James Hudson Taylor, missionary to China. This is the moment when Mr. Ni realized just how long Western countries have had the Gospel, compared to when it finally arrived in his community. My perception is that Mr. Ni, who did believe the Gospel, was grieving the fact that his father entered eternity never finding what he searched so diligently for because no one had come to his people sooner.
Spiritual Warfare! It is real. It is ugly. It can be very intense. It has causalities and requires that we love those Satan entices to attack and/or kill us. Remember, Satan comes to steal, kill and destroy God’s work and God’s people. These words are not a figure of speech, but literal.
When we, as disciples of Jesus, advance God’s Kingdom, we walk straight into a real war that is spiritually driven, not man made. It is the most important war a believer can enlist in because it is the war where we seek to proclaim the one single message that reconciles people to God.
Death. It is final. Many avoid talking about it because they fear it. It is in the news on a daily basis. A lot of people do everything they can to delay its arrival. But, inevitably death will arrive at each of our doorsteps. It will come knocking and there is nothing you or I can do about it.
This week, my sister-n-law Eunice passed away. It was unexpected and a total shock to the whole family. She has had health challenges over the past few years (stroke included) but none that we thought would take her life this past week. In fact, my family and I were on the road driving to visit Eunice and my father/mother-n-law for a few weeks when we got word of her sudden critical state and ultimate passing. What made this ever more difficult is that we were only one hour from arriving to see her and my parents-in-laws. Even my wife’s brother and his wife were in the air traveling to visit them/us for the next week as well. Yet, our planned time as a family took the one turn we would all love to reverse but cannot.
The picture above is not a picture I will soon forget. Let's face it. It's troubling to look at. His name is Alan Kurdi. He was 3 years old when his little body washed ashore in Turkey. His family was fleeing the war in Syria so they could have a life that you and I equally desire. Yet, in the process of fleeing, little Alan drowned in the Mediterranean Sea.
I keep his picture visible on my desktop because he reminds me of the millions of displaced souls around the world who are fleeing or attempting to flee their homelands due to extreme difficulties. They desire to get to a safer land where they can live a proper life. For reasons only God can explain, my family and I are not one of the millions of displaced peoples around the world.
Nik Ripken, author of Insanity of God, was our guest on Missions Talk yesterday. He said something very intriguing that immediately caught my attention because I have never heard anyone say this before nor have I thought it. Nik said: