Living In Uncertain Days

Washington, D. C.; New York, New York; London, England; Mumbai, India; Nairobi, Kenya; Moscow, Russia; and now Paris, France. What do all of these cities have in common? Well, in the light of the tragedy of last week, the answer is obvious to anyone who pays attention to world events: all of these cities have been sites of international terrorism in the past fifteen years. The threat of terrorism continues to grow. And since September 11, we know it is no longer isolated to “over there.” Those of us old enough to remember know exactly where we were when the airplanes hit the Twin Towers. However, all of these cities have something else in common for me: I have visited each of them since 9/11. I have toured some of these cities extensively and repeatedly. Now, with the addition of Paris to the list of international cities targeted by terrorists (twice in recent months), the possibility of my being in the middle of an attack is greater than ever. Of course, the United States has an extensive anti-terror team that works diligently to keep these incidents out of our country, but in reality, no one is completely immune from this kind of a threat.

It used to be that most ministry servants had a reasonable expectation of never being in harm’s way. Relatively few western Christians faced any kind of real world trouble. However, in the current situation, all that has changed. Nearly every missionary or Christian worker who travels abroad has to be vigilant. No longer is danger restricted to those who plan to work in closed or restricted access countries. Now ordinary missionaries who simply leave the United States face the very real prospect of being caught up in some international chaos. Terrorism, it seems, is here to stay—until Jesus sets all things right.

How might we process living and serving in this world plagued with random acts of terrorism? Do we need to live in fear and allow these threats to paralyze us from ministry? Should I curtail my international travels lest I leave my wife a widow? Should I avoid London, Paris, New York, Nairobi or Washington? I plan to be back in Nairobi this summer.

Several comforting truths come to mind from Scripture as I ponder this state of affairs. Christians need not fret about living in this world at this time, though they may need to be more vigilant.

God directs our steps. Psalm 37:23 reminds believers that “the steps of a man are established by the Lord, when he delights in his way.” What a comfort to know that God knows and plans our path, even through this sin-cursed world! Does this mean that all believers will be preserved from all evil in every case? Not at all. But what it does mean is that if God chooses to send a believer along a path where evil happens, there is some divine purpose intended in the journey. Our hearts ache for the city of Paris as it recovers from this wanton act of barbarity. Undoubtedly, there are some there who know the Lord who can point others to Christ during this time. We need to pray that the believers caught up in all of the chaos will shine as lights in the midst of darkness.

God walks with us always, even in the valley of the shadow of death. Psalm 23:4 reminds us that like a shepherd, God goes with us through the valley; He does not abandon us to the valley of darkness. Jesus gave a similar promise to His disciples when He sent them into the world: “I am with you always” (Matthew 28:20). As I travel globally in the service of the Lord, I “go with God,” via con Dios. I know that He will be there with me, and in His will, I need not fear. For what it’s worth, this has been part of the reality that many missionaries have clung to down through Christian history, as they have left their homelands to go unto parts unknown bearing the banner of the cross.

As Christians, God has appointed our days from beginning to end. How often have we reminded the lost that they all have an appointment to stand before God? The truth is, we all do—lost and saved. I remember a number of years ago, I was visiting with a brother from India in the aftermath of the death of missionary Graham Starnes at the hands of Hindu radicals. The brother had invited me to India, and I wondered about the safety of this friend in India. He looked at me and said rather soberly, “Don’t worry Jeff. If it’s God’s will for you to come and die in India, then you will die in India!” My immediate response, rather humorously, was, “If it’s God’s will for me to come and die in India, then I’m not coming!” Of course, I was joking. Who am I to think I can “cheat death”? I know that my days are a part of the divine plan. In His time, I have an appointment to stand before Him. This does not give me liberty to act foolishly, to tempt God with wanton disregard of the consequences. It does mean that believers are secure in the will of God until such time as God deems our mission complete and calls us home—be that from my easy chair in Plymouth, Minnesota, or riding a subway in some international city while serving the Lord.

Christians must not be needlessly troubled by the terrorism of our world. Yes, things are getting worse and the dangers are coming closer to home. We should heed the warnings to be vigilant. But we should continue to serve the Lord fearlessly as He provides opportunity, trusting that He will direct our steps as He goes with us through our journey. At the appointed time, we will stand in His presence and not one day earlier!

This essay is by Jeff Straub, Professor of Historical and Systematic Theology at Central Baptist Theological Seminary.  It was originally published “In The Nick of Time” on November 20, 2015.

Annual IBMGlobal Candidate Conference

This week I have been participating in an annual training conference for cross-cultural missionaries.  I serve as the Africa Director for a mission agency, IBMGlobal.

This year we have missionary candidates heading to South Sudan, Costa Rica, the jungles of Peru, Zambia and Liberia.

I’m always challenged by the interaction with men and women who are committed to taking the gospel around the world.  The workshops are incredibly refreshing.

Mark Vowels, is the missions prof at BJUniversity.  On Monday Mark brought workshops dealing with cross-cultural ministry, strategy and cultural adaptation.

On Tuesday Dr. Sam Horn helped us with a theological foundation for suffering and trials that will enable us to minster to others in their pain.  Later in the day we discussed managing conflict biblically.

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The Wednesday sessions with Dr Dave Doran focused on principles for evaluating what is acceptable and not acceptable in the host culture and the implications of this on indigenous ministry.

Neal Cushman and Steve Stadtmiller handled the nuts and bolts of ministry in the Thursday sessions: Developing a field strategy, Deputation, Funding & the Family and Ministry.

This has been a great week of fellowship and ministry refreshment.  I'm thankful for the opportunity to serve with this board, the churches sending these missionaries, and the faithful men and women heading out to serve Christ.

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Thomas Ragland's Lessons For Successful Missionary Work

The Great Commandment states that we are to “love the Lord... with all your heart, soul, strength and mind.” The Great Commission states that we are to “go into all the world and preach the gospel” to everyone, everywhere.

Thomas Ragland was a missionary many years ago in the land of India. From his experience he shared the following three lessons concerning the work of missions:
1. Of all the qualifications for mission work, and every other work, love is the greatest (I Cor. 13).
2. Of all methods of attaining to a position of usefulness and honor, the only safe one is purging our hearts from worldliness and selfishness (2 Tim. 2.21).
3. Of all plans for ensuring success, the most certain is Christ’s plan – becoming as a corn of wheat, falling into the ground and dying. (Jn. 12.24)

This is what Jesus Christ did over two thousand years ago. He lost His life and his fame. He went around over the world talking to men and women, taking little children up in His arms and ignoring what the world thought was important. He lived His life for others and to accomplish the will of His Father. And in the end, he lost His life!

Though he lost His life, He has found it again in the millions throughout the ages who have received His message and become His followers. Christ was motivated by love. He lived a life of selfless devotion to the Father and to others. He died and in dying offered life to every person in the world today. Jesus then commissioned us – you and me - to go with His love and the message of His life to “everybody, everywhere!”

Will you get involved by praying, giving and going?

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