Barriers to God’s Grace

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“They are incredibly hospitable,” Lizzie said of the people in the Central Asian city where she lives. “But the darkness is under the surface all the time, just waiting to come out.”

I recently read an online article ( http://ht.ly/9X2qb ) about demonic barriers to the gospel in Central Asia. The missionary in this article shares dark stories of how evil lurks beneath the surface of people’s lives in the country where she lives.

Missions efforts are honorable in God’s kingdom work. I admire men and women of history and today who seek to spread the gospel despite the sacrifice and the cost. I have been inspired by hundreds of missionary stories retelling life threatening encounters all in the name of Jesus and his Grace. Words from adventurous Christian work stir my soul and inspire me to action, dreaming of the day I can risk it all for Jesus as so many missionaries do. I seek to overcome, by God’s grace, the barriers to His gospel in places obviously filled with demonic attack.

A thought occurred to me while reading this article that the current ministry setting where my Lord has placed me has its own dangers and barriers to the Gospel. The adventurous nature of missionary stories are inspiring. Yet, God has placed me where I am for the same reason He sends missionaries to remote places of the world. I am to preach the gospel.

Part of the reason I relate to missionary stories is that I have served in missions to hard places in Central Asia. As hard as the gospel is to take root in a dominantly muslim culture, I often think of how much easier it is for American Christians to embrace this type of ministry thinking over ministry in the United States. After all, missions to hometown communities have no adventure does it? Christianity is prosperous in America. We think, “The gospel is not needed here…it is those pagan people over there who need to hear about Jesus.”

The apostle Paul had an adventurous ministry. He writes in Romans 15: 20-21,

And thus I make it my ambition to preach the gospel, not where Christ has already been named, lest I build on someone else’s foundation, but as it is written,
‘Those who have never been told of him will see, and those who have never heard will understand.’

Paul’s ministry was focused on those who had not heard the gospel. And for Paul, that was anywhere other than where he was because he proclaimed the good news of Christ wherever he was. As our Lord used Paul in each place he preached, there was always somewhere else to preach. There was always someone else who had not heard the gospel.

As I preach in the United States, I encounter so many who have rejected Christ. It stirs my soul to think of anyone, especially my own countrymen, turning from the truth of the gospel and this motivates me to seek out anyone who will hear the gospel openly. This stirring opens desire to preach overseas. Anywhere is more open to the gospel than here isn’t it? Barriers to the gospel are very strong among Americans. Gun toting, radical muslim men would be easier to reach than spoiled Americans wouldn’t they?

I often return to the biography of Jim Elliott for inspiration for overseas missions. Jim wrote in 1950;

“You wonder why people choose fields away from the States when young people at home are drifting because no one wants to take time to listen to their problems. I’ll tell you why I left. Because those Stateside young people have every opportunity to study, hear and understand the Word of God in their own language, and these Indians have no opportunity whatsoever. I have had to make a cross of two logs, and lie down on it, to show the Indians what it means to crucify a man. When there is that much ignorance over here and so much knowledge and opportunity over there, I have no question in my mind why God sent me here. Those whimpering Stateside young people will wake up on the Day of Judgement condemned to worse fates than these demon-fearing Indians, because having a Bible, they were bored with it — while these never heard of such a thing as writing.”

Jim Elliott was called to preach to the Indians of Ecuador. I have been called to preach to the mountain folks of Southern Appalachia.

For many Americans, I am on a foreign mission field.

But to me, this is home. I do not feel like I am in a foreign land. I was born here. I studied elsewhere, but returned to preach the gospel because God led me here.

God also led me to have compassion for the people of Central Asia as well. I found it easier to witness to strangers in a foreign country than I often do to Americans. It was easier perhaps because I knew I would not be held accountable by the Tajiks of Central Asia after leaving and coming home. My American neighbors and friends see me every day and have expectations of me as a pastor. The work I do among those God has called me to, Americans, have heard of Jesus. But I am beginning to realize that most have not heard the gospel.

Which makes me think that the hardest ministry is to those to whom I relate. I speak the language. I eat the food (and love it). The culture of America and small town Appalachia is my culture and I take for granted that my friends and neighbors have all heard the gospel. There is not much more I can tell them.

But kingdom work is required.

Until God tells me differently, I will preach the gospel and share the truth of Christ to all who will listen.

Perhaps, someday, I can preach again to a remote unreached people in the mountains of Central Asia. Perhaps I can take friends of mine from the mountains of Southwest Virginia with me. But for now, I am called to preach to the people in the mountains of Southern Appalachia who are incredibly hospitable, but the darkness is under the surface all the time, just waiting to come out.

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