5 Lessons In Missions

IMG_2455Imagine sipping a cup of sweet, strong coffee while gazing across the breezy, balmy mountains of Central America.

Two weeks ago, that was my wife and I, and some of our missionary friends in Honduras.

It was just as delightfully pleasant as you might have imagined.

We were in Honduras for Holy Week to assist our friends and their church, where I preached a Bible conference during the weeknights and taught a 3-day intensive course in their Bible institute. The time passed quickly, but not too quickly for us to enjoy our stay and learn a few lessons along the way.

I’ve always admired missionaries, and I cherish any opportunity to serve with them on their turf. Just as I cherish any opportunity to learn from them. This trip provided several – at least one per day – and I share them here with you:

Christians Have Family Everywhere (Monday)

IMG_2399This truth presented itself before we ever left for Honduras. Living in Dixons Mills, Alabama, we face a minimum two-hour drive to any significant airport, and flights to Honduras leave early. Like before 6am. Add the standard, “Get there two hours early,” and you can see our dilemma.

A man in our church helped solve this problem by connecting us with his sister and her husband, who live only twenty minutes from the airport in Birmingham. They welcomed us to stay the night, even though we couldn’t get there until 11pm and had to leave by 4am. We’d never met them before, but family ties are the grace of God, both by blood and by faith.

I imagine this is something like what Jesus meant in Mark 10:29-30, when he taught about his disciples having to leave everything to follow him. He said that no one has left their home or family for his sake, who would not also receive a hundred times that in this life. In Christ, we have hundreds, even thousands of family members and homes and lands that are open to those who follow him.

Missionaries know this because they have to leave their families and homes to follow Jesus. But he provides in his own way more than what they leave behind. I was reminded of this every time I heard a brother or sister in Honduras refer to me as “Hermano Aaron.” Even if we don’t speak the same language or look anything alike, Christians have family everywhere.

Missionaries Are Visionaries (Tuesday)

IMG_2357As Pastor of a supporting church, I was thrilled when our friends took us around Tegucigalpa to see the different locations where they had started Bible studies. Each of these is a seed bed for a new church plant, a place for believers to gather and leaders to serve.

As I thought on this, I was reminded of Paul’s words in Romans 15:18-20, where he expressed his desire to preach the Gospel where Christ had yet to be named. Only, as he did so, he knew the importance of starting works that could then reach even more people beyond the sound of his own voice.

I admire missionaries who have a vision for taking the Gospel into places where Christ is not yet adored. A city may have a church, but that doesn’t mean that every neighborhood has access to the Scriptures. A missionary is one who sees men, women, and children, and seeks to bring the Gospel to their very doorstep. They are the true entrepreneurs. Theirs is the work that will last for eternity.

Apologetics Is the Handmaiden of Evangelism (Wednesday)

IMG_2414I was not in Honduras as an evangelist, but as a teacher. This was the need, the request, and this is where I find the Holy Spirit equipping me. During the evenings I taught from the Scriptures on how God provides for the assurance of our salvation, despite the many challenges to our faith. During the day, I taught from the Scriptures on some of the most basic elements of our faith in contrast to the prevailing culture.

This is why I went, to teach apologetics. Not the science of saying “I’m sorry,” apologetics is the study of making a defense. In a Christian context, it means making a defense of the faith in light of whatever challenges a particular culture brings. In Honduras, this meant focusing on things such as the authority of Scripture, justification by faith alone, and the nature of grace. (Frankly, this would be appropriate in Alabama too!)

A missionary may share the simple Gospel, and people may come to Christ. However, the task is incomplete until they have become learners of Jesus, and learning of Jesus means learning to believe and obey what he said in contrast to the presuppositions of the surrounding world. In short, it means learning why we believe what we say we believe.

This is implied in 1 Peter 3:15 which tells us always to be ready to give a reason for the faith we hold. We are not fideists, summoned to a blind faith; we follow a risen Savior who proved his own resurrection and provided the Holy Spirit to help us learn the Scriptures. He has called us to present the truth that grounds our faith.

That’s why evangelism isn’t enough. Oh, it’s enough to save a soul. Praise God for that! But that soul must then follow Christ in a hostile culture and know his own faith well enough to share it with others. That’s where apologetics comes in. Each supports the other. Evangelism leads to apologetics; apologetics makes for better evangelists.

God Still Saves (Thursday)

IMG_2372When all preaching is grounded in the Gospel, we needn’t be surprised when God uses a message for Christians to draw a non-believer to faith in Christ. This happened on Thursday night, when – of all nights – I was preaching from Romans 7, a notoriously difficult passage for students of the Scriptures.

If there was ever a sermon intended for believers, this was it, but it was grounded in a Gospel of grace through faith in Christ. And that was the Gospel God used to draw A____ to salvation.

After the church service was over Thursday night, this 21 yr. old young man – invited by his friend, another 21 yr. old – approached the missionary and me. He said he wanted to trust Christ to be saved but was afraid that he might abandon the faith. What an opportunity to present God’s sustaining grace!

I watched and listened as the missionary carefully explained the Gospel to him, and I listened as he prayed to receive Christ as Lord and Savior. Then together, with the angels in heaven, we rejoiced!

This is what Jesus talked about in Luke 15:7, when he explained in vivid detail the pleasure of God in saving sinners. Because of this missionaries still go: God still saves.

Missionaries Are People Too (Friday)

IMG_2327As much as I admire missionaries, I have to remember not to canonize them. They are human beings as much as the rest of us. I realized this as our departure time drew near.

Without putting words into their mouths, our missionary friends were obviously happy to have us visit them. And they obviously regretted that we had to leave. Just as we love to have friends visit us, so do missionaries enjoy visits from those who love them and support them and pray for them.

Some might ask (though none have) why my wife accompanied me on this trip. She didn’t teach or preach – though she played the piano for a couple of services. What was she there for? Among the many answers to this question, she was there to visit, love, and encourage our missionaries.

Sometimes well-meaning church folk wonder aloud why we should spend thousands of dollars on missions trips when we could just send the money to the missionaries.

It’s a good question, but it has no heart.

I can’t speak for all missionaries, but I believe the vast majority feel the same way. True enough, missions requires money, and they are thankful for every dollar of financial support they receive.

But if given a choice between cold, hard cash and the warm-blooded presence of a friend – well, which would you choose? Knowing what you do of missionaries, which do you think they would choose?

Yes, they can always use the money. But which is easier – to send a few hundred dollars, or to take time away from your life to travel to a far-off land with weird food, smells, customs and poor plumbing in order to spend time with someone you care about? And which means more – a card with money in it? Or someone who thinks you’re important enough to them to come visit?

I think this is something like what Paul expressed in Romans 1:8-12, when he expressed his longing to see the Romans, not only to help them but so that he could be encouraged by their mutual faith. There is great encouragement in sharing the blessings of ministry with kindred spirits.

I am thankful to God and Central Baptist Church for the ability to take this trip, and I encourage Christians of all sorts to love and support your missionaries. Help them in whatever way you can. Go visit them. Pray for them. Write to them. They are in a very blessed, yet challenging place.

But I also believe that they are in an eternally significant place, and – ultimately – a joyful one. Share in that joy.

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