In the milieu of ideology on church growth and strategy it is refreshing to read wise counsel from faithful pastors of past generations who remind us that, although we may be experiencing a dynamic change in the technological and informational realms, the Gospel and the preaching of that Gospel never changes at its core. Consider the words of William Still who speaks to the issues of the Pastor as Evangelist and Shepherd:
Too many [pastors] today pin their faith for fruitful evangelism on harping for ever on a few Gospel facts isolated from the broad and full context of the whole Bible.
Still’s point is that a truly evangelistic ministry is one in which the whole counsel of God’s Word is made to bear. Still appeals to James Philip’s words…
The church’s evangelism ought to be one in which all the counsel of God is made known to men. We need a recovery of belief in the converting and sanctifying power of the living Word of God in the teaching of the pulpit and its ability to transform the lives of men and produce in them the lineaments and fruits of mature Christian character.
Still further contends that when the pastor loses sight of the power of the Word of God preached and begins to focus on or emphasize other things it is time for him to reconsider his calling. It is the pastors responsibility to feed the flock.
If you think that you are called to keep a largely worldly organization, miscalled a church, going, with infinitesimal doses of innocuous sub-Christian drugs or stimulants, then the only help I can give you is to advise you to give up the hope of the ministry and go and be a street scavenger; a far healthier and more godly job, keeping the streets tidy, than cluttering the church with a lot of worldly claptrap in the delusion that you are doing a job for God. The pastor is called to feed the sheep, even if the sheep do not want to be fed. He is certainly not to become an entertainer of goats. Let goats entertain goats, and let them do it out in goatland. You will certainly not turn goats int sheep by pandering to their goatishness.
Those are strong words, but words that need to be considered for anyone who is called to serve the church of God as Pastor.
Do we really believe that the Word of God, by His Spirit, changes, as well as maddens men? If we do, to be evangelists and pastor, feeders of sheep, we must be men of the Word of God.
These are important questions for both Pastors and Sheep to consider:
Pastors – Are we really feeding the sheep by proclaiming the whole counsel of God?
Sheep – Do you really want to be fed the whole counsel of God, plainly and clearly, and with passion and conviction?
Caught your attention, didn’t I. This past month I attended the 2012 Together for the Gospel conference in Louisville, KY. While there I was introduced to Carl Trueman, the Professor of Historical Theology and Church History at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia. Now, when I say “introduced” I don’t mean personally, but I did have the privilege of sitting in his workshop and listening to his dialogue during one of the panel sessions on the subject of Celebrity Pastors.
Now, the fact that he is a Britt like me was intriguing as I think that I have been helped in my pastoral, theological and philosophical walk through godly men from across the pond who have this uncanny ability to look at American Evangelicalism from the outside and make exposing constructive criticisms. Not only is Carl Trueman effective at this, his many thoughts are very honest and revealing, not to mention refreshing and provocative.
Here is an article he wrote the other day about Multi-Site ministries from Reformation 21. Read it with an open mind fashioned by God’s truth and then enjoy the spoof video that I created…
Any classic rock fan knows that there is nothing quite like hearing a live band. A few years ago, I went to hear The Who (or at least Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend, the extant members). I remember listening on the way home to a live recording of ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again’ just after hearing the real thing in the stadium. Even without Moon and Entwistle, the live performance was so much more powerful than the recording which, in the immediate aftermath of the concert, sounded like an anemic cover by a wannabe boy band. The same thing applied next day to my watching of the video of the last time the original line-up ever played together, performing that very song. It was simply not a patch on actually being there, despite the absence of Keith and John.
Presence is important. In a world where it is easy to simulate presence, even visible presence as by television, webcam or skype, it remains the case that actually being in the immediate physical proximity of somebody is important. We all intuitively know this: given the choice of talking to a loved one on the phone or over a camera link up or in the same room, who would not want actually to be with them?
This raises an important question about the notion of multi-site ministry, where the preacher is piped in to various locations by satellite link-up or fibre optic cable. Of course, this practice is susceptible to numerous lines of devastating critique. One might suggest that it moves the church towards a model where the accent in preaching is increasingly on the information communicated, nothing more; one might also raise questions about the way it detaches pastoral care of congregations and individuals from the ministry of public proclamation. For church officers it should surely be a nerve-wracking notion that pastors are to be held accountable for those entrusted to their care; and how can they give a credible account of such care if they do not know the faces, let alone the names, of those thus entrusted to them? Finally, one might point to the extreme example now being set by groups such as Mars Hill: what does ‘contextualisation’ mean when one man based in Seattle can pipe his message to congregations across the country, perhaps eventually across the world, regardless of any local context into which his messages might be broadcast? Even those of us who think the whole preoccupation with contextualisation of recent decades has tended to be rather overblown find such an action to be contrary to good sense.
All of these are important lines of critique; but there is one further one which is, I believe, lethal to multisite because it involves a poker tell on the part of its practitioners which reveals a fatal inconsistency.
A couple of months ago a pastor sent me an email written by one of his congregants who had been on vacation and had visited a campus of one of the better known multi-site evangelical ministries. His description of what he had witnessed was balanced and matter of fact, even appreciative at points; but one observation he made really piqued my interest: he commented that, although the preacher was piped in by videolink, the music band were actually present.
That observation strikes me as being of crucial importance not only to critics of multi-site like myself; but also something with which multi-site advocates must themselves wrestle. It seems to me (at least on the basis of the anecdotal research which I have been able to do) that nobody in the multi-site world pipes in the music by videolink in the way that is simply assumed as legitimate when it comes to the preacher. Yet in so doing, it seems to me that such ministries are conceding the importance of presence – of real, physical presence – to the gathering of the church. They are also begging the question: why have a real band when the most important thing, the preaching, can be beamed in? Or is it that the preaching is no longer the most important thing?
Some might well respond that it is easier to find good musicians than good preachers and this accounts for the apparent anomaly. That has a specious plausibility but rests on rather dubious premises. First, it reinforces the developing mythology that preaching the gospel is very difficult and that there are only a couple of dozen people in the entire United States who are any good at it. To quote Gershwin, it ain’t necessarily so. If it were, Paul would surely have told us. In fact, he pours scorn on the Corinthian church’s fascination with orators; what he requires of ministers is that they be competent to teach. That necessarily means they must be able to express themselves clearly and with conviction; but it does not mean they need the rhetorical skills of Winston Churchill or the brilliant classroom presence of Richard Feynman.
Second, it assumes the absolute negotiability of immediate physical presence. Apparently, it is better to have the big man piped in from the outside than have somebody less skilled doing it on site. Yet much is lost when that is done. Anyone who has ever taught or preached in the immediate presence of a live audience or congregation knows that there is a dialogical relationship between speaker and listeners. It may well take place at an almost subconscious level; but one instinctively reads signs from those listening and modifies one’s voice and even one’s content in the light of such. This becomes clear to any teacher who has also taught by videolink: the connection to those whose presence is mediated via a video screen is not susceptible to the same subtlety or implicit dialogue. In short, the relationship is fundamentally different: blunted, distant and relatively impersonal.
One might also add that mediated presence is inevitably presence that is less confrontational. Again, I remember some years ago seeing Jessica Lange playing the lead in a West End version of A Streetcar Named Desire. I had read the play; I had seen the Elia Kazan movie numerous times; but nothing prepared me for the raw psycholgical impact of seeing the emotional implosion of Blanche Dubois on the stage just in front of me. Lange’s physical presence before me made all the difference. The movie and the play were not two forms of the same piece of art; in terms of reception, they were two utterly different works of art. Watching a video of a preacher, even in a crowded auditorium, is similar: immediate presence is confrontational; mediated presence is always easier to domesticate. Not two forms of the same thing but two different things.
The preacher who pipes himself in to numerous sites needs to ask himself if, by doing so, he loses the key elements of subtle dialogue and direct confrontation with a physically present congregation which are so important; the congregation satisfied with a video pastor needs to ask if its satisfaction is in part related to the absence of the man, an absence which inevitably tames that confrontational element which is such an important part of what Luther called ‘the word which comes from outside.’
There are those pastors who will say ‘Well, if we plant a church but I am not the regular preacher, people have told me that they will not come.’ That may well be true but it begs a follow-up question: does that not indicate a serious problem in the heart of the people? That pastor needs to call those people to repentance: it is not the man, it is the message which is meant to feed their souls. Sure, the message can be preached boringly, badly and even heretically by some; but there are more than a half dozen men in the USA who are competent to teach. Good preaching may be at a premium; but that still does not make it either rocket science or infused Gnostic knowledge given only to a few of the chosen.
And they should also ask themselves why they always have live music. ‘It’s easier to hire good musicians’ is a dodge, not a sufficient answer. In having live music, you concede the vital importance of presence. You should now apply that to the preaching as you do to the congregation’s response to the same.
What is the driving vehicle for ministry in many churches? This little video will shed some light.
Our Ministry Leaders are presently working through an excellent book called, The Trellis and the Vine, which is a clarion call for churches to take a fresh look at how they are doing ministry. It emphasizes the pervasive problem of “Program Oriented” ministry that can so easily be the focus rather than Jesus Christ.
An unusual thing happened at the Phillips’ household last night. I was showing my wife where she could watch and listen to David Platt’s sermon online from the 2012 Together for the Gospel conference. As I showed her how to access the vimeo video my son Gavin, who attended the conference with me, came and sat down next to us and began to watch. A few minutes later, my daughter Deanna squeezed herself between Gavin and me, and a few minutes later our youngest son, Adam, nestled into the fray by Elia. There we sat, our family of five, squeezed onto the couch watching David Platt’s message on “God’s Sovereignty: The Fuel of Death Defying Missions” (Note: we also have a daughter who is off at college, so we are really a family of six)
It was great to have my family listen to a sermon that faithfully expounded Revelation 5 and allowed the text to drive the message…and what a message it is! I won’t repeat all the content, but I will give some of my reflections personally and pastorally, but here is a summary of the main points of his sermon (the full text is below, thanks to Justin Taylor):
One Overarching Truth – A high view of God’s sovereignty fuels death-defying devotion to global missions.
Three Underlying Premises
Local ministry and local missions are absolutely necessary!
Global missions is tragically neglected!
Pastors have the privilege and responsibility to lead the way!
Four Theological Truths – that flow out of Revelation 5
Our sovereign God holds the destiny of the world in the palm of his hand.
The state of man before God apart from Christ is utterly hopeless.
The greatest news in all the world is that the slaughtered Lamb of God reigns as the sovereign Lord of all.
The atonement of Christ is graciously, globally, and gloriously particular.
Four Practical Implications of What We Should Do – That flow out of those four Theological Truths
Let us lead our churches to pray confidently (for the spread of the gospel to all peoples).
Let us lead our churches to give sacrificially.
Let us lead our churches to go intentionally to all peoples.
Let us lead our churches to die willingly.
Now, apart from being an excellent example of homiletics and expository preaching this message moved me and others to do some genuine heart reflection in the area of missions. Ligon Duncan reflected that he thought David Platt’s sermon was the best message on Missions he had ever heard.
John Piper reflected, “This may have been the most powerful missions message I’ve ever heard. I needed to be quiet with God.” It was true, at the end of the sermon and after the closing song there was an unusual contemplative mood. We all had a break before another panel discussion, but there wasn’t the rushing around and haste that was common during these times, but rather hearts reflecting, talking and taking in what God had just revealed – and that continues to be the stirring of this heart!
If you know me at all you know that I have a big heart for missions. God has gifted me with opportunities to minister in countries like Russia, Bolivia and Costa Rica. I am passionate about teaching the nationals to do the work of the ministry and my wife, family and church has sacrificed weeks so that I could be used by God for His investment in the Kingdom of God through me. In fact, I have been accused of loving missions too much and that my heart is not really in the local church. So, there was so much for me that was convicting, encouraging, affirming and envisioning to muse over with God.
1. I Was Encouraged.
I was encouraged specifically by the reminder and reinforcement of what I know to be true, that God is Sovereign and that He is the one who is driving missions throughout the World…and I simply get to be a part of what He is doing. He doesn’t need me, but he loves me and includes me in the spreading of His Gospel throughout the world by sending me on trips where I can influence through His Word a small portion of a people group whether it is the Bashkort people of Russia – an unreached group or the Kechua Indians of Bolivia. This has been my passion for many years. I have taken teams, taught pastors and invested much of my time to somehow be a part and use my gifts and influence for His glory. He is good to have allowed me the privilege of joining Him!
2. I Feel Affirmed.
Since missions is “my” passion it often comes across as a selfish personal endeavor rather than a responsibility that I feel because I am a pastor of God’s people in the most prosperous country in the World. David’s clear direction is that Pastors need to take lead role in sending and being sent to do missions on short term, mid term and long term ministry. This has been my passion and will be for a number of reasons that I have articulated in the past and which Platt emphasized, but primarily because it is “God’s” passion. Here is what I have said…
God has given me an education – and I must use it for His glory
God has given me a position as pastor – and I must exercise it for His glory
God has given me resources – and I must use them responsibly for His kingdom and glory
God has given me freedom – to take time away so that I can invest and impact another people group for His glory
Those four stewardships come with great responsibility. To not use them in a missions context, for me, is a shirking of my responsibilities before God. It is not that I “want” to do missions for the fun of it or for some self gratifying purpose, but that I “have” to do missions for the glory of it. And, in doing missions I find joy because I am being faithful to Him. So, I love to take people with me to get “missionitis” and see the glory of God at work through our meager efforts.
3. I Am Convicted.
I am convicted that, although I have been passionate about missions, I have not done enough. In fact, with the accusations against me I have tended to be tentative rather than bold with regard for missions. That boldness is in no way a detraction from the ministry of the Gospel in my church or community. I work hard to faithfully proclaim the word to the people of God as well as to stir up the church to reach their community, but I must confess that I have drifted in the intensity of my missions passion on a corporate level as a result of the fear of man whose accusations have been unfounded, yet effective to silence me. I am ashamed to admit it, but it is true!
4. I Am Looking Ahead.
Our church, Gateway Bible Church, is in a great place at present. We have committed to being a strong missions minded church and are stepping out by faith to give graciously to that endeavor. So, as a new church plant, we have the great privilege of beginning with a clean slate. That is a true blessing as well as an opportunity to pursue an unreached people group. We want to approach missions effectively and God is gracious to us to give us some time to investigate what that will look like. I am excited to lead a church family in the glorious global endeavor to spread His Word to the nations.
I would highly recommend listening to the message below…
Below is the text for the sermon gleaned from Justin Taylor’s blog – I want to thank Justin for his hard work in providing this resource…
God’s Sovereignty: The Fuel of Death Defying Missions – T4G
One Overarching Truth
A high view of God’s sovereignty fuels death-defying devotion to global missions.
Pastors who believe that God is sovereign over all things will lead Christians to die for the sake of all peoples.
Three Underlying Premises
This will clarify where we’re going, and maybe even disarm you a bit from objections that may already be rising in your mind and your heart.
(1) Local ministry and local mission are totally necessary.
I am not saying tonight—or advocating at any point—that we should neglect local ministry, in the local church or the local community.
(2) Global missions is tragically neglected.
The northern part of Yemen has 8 million people. That’s twice the population of the entire state of Kentucky.
Do you know how many believers there are out of those 8 million people? 20 or 30.
There are more believers in a Sunday School class in your church than in all of northern Yemen.
Over 2 billion people in the world today are classified as unreached—which means more than “unsaved” but that the gospel is simply not accessible to them.
(3) Pastors have the privilege and responsibility to lead the way in global missions.
Over 6,000 people groups with over 2 billion people in them are not yet reached with the gospel. This is a problem not for mission boards and mission agencies to address—this is a problem for every pastor and every local church represented in this room to address.
Pastors, we love people in our local churches (local ministry) and we love people in our local communities (local mission) to the end that one day all peoples in all the world receive the gospel of God and revere the glory of God (global missions).
And what drives all of this—in the heart of a pastor and in the heart of a local church—is rock-solid confidence in the sovereignty of God over all things.
Then I saw in the right hand of him who was seated on the throne a scroll written within and on the back, sealed with seven seals. And I saw a mighty angel proclaiming with a loud voice, “Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?” And no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or to look into it, and I began to weep loudly because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to look into it. And one of the elders said to me,
“Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.”
And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain, with seven horns and with seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth. And he went and took the scroll from the right hand of him who was seated on the throne. And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. And they sang a new song, saying,
“Worthy are you to take the scroll
and to open its seals,
for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God
from every tribe and language and people and nation,
and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God,
and they shall reign on the earth.”
Then I looked, and I heard around the throne and the living creatures and the elders the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice,
“Worthy is the Lamb who was slain,
to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might
and honor and glory and blessing!”
And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying,
“To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb
be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!”
And the four living creatures said, “Amen!” and the elders fell down and worshiped.
Four Theological Truths in the Text
(1) Our sovereign God holds the destiny of the world in the palm of his hand.
Revelation 5:1, “I saw in the right hand of him who was seated on the throne a scroll. . . .”
Revelation 4:11, “Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.”
Almighty God, just because he is almighty, needs no support.
The picture of a nervous, ingratiating God fawning over men to win their favor is not a pleasant one; yet if we look at the popular conception of God that is precisely what we see.
Twentieth-century Christianity has put God on charity. So lofty is our opinion of ourselves that we find it quite easy, not to say enjoyable, to believe that we are necessary to God. . . .
Probably the hardest thought of all for our natural egotism to entertain is that God does not need our help. We commonly represent Him as a busy, eager, somewhat frustrated Father hurrying about seeking help to carry out His benevolent plan to bring peace and salvation to the world. . . .
Too many missionary appeals are based upon this fancied frustration of Almighty God. An effective speaker can easily excite pity in his hearers, not only for the heathen but for the God who has tried so hard and so long to save them and has failed for want of support.
I fear that thousands of younger persons enter Christian service from no higher motive than to help deliver God from the embarrassing situation His love has gotten Him into and His limited abilities seem unable to get Him out of.
Add to this a certain degree of commendable idealism and a fair amount of compassion for the underprivileged and you have the true drive behind much Christian activity today.
(2) The state of man before God apart from Christ is utterly hopeless.
Revelation 5:2, “I saw a strong angel proclaiming with a loud voice, ‘Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?’ And no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or to look into it, and I began to weep loudly because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to look into it.”
The scroll contains the grand purpose of God in the world. And the silence of heaven testifies to the sinfulness of man. No one is worthy, and John is weeping. There is no hope apart from Christ.
Thomas Watson: “Thus it is in Hell; they would die, but they cannot. The wicked shall be always dying but never dead; the smoke of the furnace ascends for ever and ever. Oh! Who can endure thus to be ever upon the rack? This word ‘ever’ breaks the heart.”
George Whitfield used to speak with tears in his eyes of “the torment of burning like a livid coal, not for an instant or for a day, but for millions and millions of ages, at the end of which souls will realize that they are no closer to the end than when they first begun, and they will never, ever be delivered from that place.“
The way we talk about hell—helluva game, helluva song—shows we have no idea what we’re talking about.
The state of the unreached in the world: they haven’t heard of God—and yet they have heard him and seen him.
Romans 1:18-23, “What may be known about God is plain to them because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world, God’s invisible qualities, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse. Although they knew God, they neither glorified God nor gave thanks to Him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like birds and animals and reptiles.”
The innocent man in Africa goes to heaven—the only problem is that he doesn’t exist. There are no innocent unreached people in the world. They are guilty before God and thus they need the gospel!
There are over 2 billion people in this world at this moment whose knowledge of God is only sufficient to damn them to hell forever. But there is hope!
(3) The greatest news in all the world is that the slaughtered Lamb of God reigns as the sovereign Lord of all.
“One of the elders said to me, ‘Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.’” (Revelation 5:5).
He was promised centuries ago to patriarchs of old: “the lion of the tribe of Judah . . . to whom shall be the obedience of the peoples” (Genesis 49:10).
He is the Root of David: “There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit. The Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him . . . and he will stand as a signal for the peoples” (Isaiah 11:1-2, 11).
“I will raise up,” declares the sovereign Lord, “for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king” (Jeremiah 23:5).
“Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting? The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!” (1 Corinthians 15:55-56).
“Look, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29).
Throughout history, from the beginning of time, men have come and men have gone, women have come and women have gone, all of them, the noblest of them, the kindest of them, the strongest of them, the greatest of them—all of them have fallen prey to sin.
All of them—every single man and every single woman—a slave to Satan.
All of them—generation after generation, century after century—every single man and every single woman succumbed to death.
But then came another man—unlike any man or woman before.
This man did not fall prey to sin; He possessed power over sin.
This man was not enslaved to Satan; He was enslaved to righteousness.
And this man did not succumb to death; He triumphed over death.
How? By suffering as a lamb.
He was marred / despised / rejected / stricken / smitten / afflicted / wounded / chastised / oppressed/ pulverized in our place—and all who hide under the banner of his blood will be saved.
The Lamb of God has not only endured death in our place; he has defeated death by his power. He bears the scars of death, yet he is sovereign over death.
Crown Him the Lord of love, behold His hands and side,
Those wounds, yet visible above, in beauty glorified.
No angel in the sky can fully bear that sight,
But downward bends his burning eye at mysteries so bright.
Crown Him the Lord of life, who triumphed over the grave,
And rose victorious in the strife for those He came to save.
His glories now we sing, who died, and rose on high,
Who died eternal life to bring, and lives that death may die.
Revelation 5:7, “He went and took the scroll from the right hand of him who was seated on the throne.”
Salvation through sacrifice.
The consummation of the kingdom comes through the crucifixion of God’s Son.
Jesus was “obedient to death, even death on a cross. Therefore, God has exalted Him to the highest place and given Him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil. 2:8-9).
(4) The atonement of Christ is graciously, globally, and gloriously particular.
“Four living creatures and twenty-four elders fell down and they sang a new song, saying, ‘Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed/purchased people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth’” (Rev. 5:8-10).
God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ has “chosen you in him before the foundation of the world, that you should be holy and blameless in his sight. In love, He predestined you to be adopted as his son through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of His will, to the praise of His glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in Him. In Him you have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of your trespasses, according to the riches of His grace, which He lavished on you according to His purpose. . . . In Him you have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will” (Eph. 1:4-11).
Brothers and sisters, if there are 6,000 people groups that have still not been reached with the gospel of Christ, then we have missed the point of the atonement.
Our obedience to the Great Commission of Christ is incomplete if we just make disciples. Our commission is to make disciples of all the nations, of all the peoples.
Particular atonement drives global missions. So if we believe Revelation 5:9 (if we believe that Jesus died to purchase people from every tribe and tongue and nation), then let us go to every tribe and tongue and nation.
Why? Because we feel guilty that we’re reached, that we have all these resources? Aren’t we just “guilting people” into going overseas to the unreached? We feel bad so we go?
What drives passion for unreached peoples is not guilt, it’s glory—glory for a King.
It’s people who know that our sovereign God deserves the praise of not just 10,000 people groups on the planet, but all 16,000 of them. And we’re not going to stop until every single people group purchased by Christ is exalting His Name.
Four Implications of What We Should Do
(1) Let us lead our churches to pray confidently (for the spread of the gospel to all peoples).
Tell them Matthew 24:14. Tell them that “the gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.” Tell them that, and then lead them to pray for the end to come. Ladd said this verse is “the single most important verse in the Word of God for the people of God today.” “God alone knows the definition of terms. I cannot precisely define who all the nations are, but I do not need to know. I know only one thing: Christ has not yet returned; therefore, the task is not yet done. When it is done, Christ will come. Our responsibility is not to insist on defining the terms; our responsibility is to complete the task. So long as Christ does not return, our work is undone. Let us get busy and complete our mission.”
(2) Let us lead our churches to give sacrificially.
For every $100 a Christian in North America makes, an average of $0.05 goes to the unreached.
Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert, When Helping Hurts: “The Bible’s teachings should cut to the heart of North American Christians. By any measure, we are the richest people ever to walk on planet Earth.”
See Psalm 67.
God gives his people worldly wealth for the spread of worldwide worship. The sovereign God of the universe has willed for us to be wealthy for the sake of his worship.
(3) Let us lead our churches to go intentionally to all peoples.
We need to have short-term, mid-term, and long-term missions.
There’s no question that we see Timothy-type people in the NT and Paul-type people in the NT.
God calls Timothy-type people to stay in a church (among the reached) and shepherd the body.
God calls Paul-type people to leave the reached and scatter to the unreached.
And pastor, there are men and women in your church whom God is calling to Paul-type ministry. Maybe not everybody, but some of them. God is calling them to pack their bags and move overseas to spread the gospel among unreached peoples.
So are you
calling them out?
coming alongside them?
taking time during the year in your preaching and in your pastoring to speak specifically to them?
leading the church to fast and pray like Antioch in Acts 13 and listening, “God, who are you calling out next to go long-term to unreached people groups overseas?” and waiting until he answers.
Are you listening? Could he be calling you?
Why don’t we just send money and let the local people do it? There are no local Christians, there are no local churches . . . that’s what it means to be unreached. God’s design is not for you and me to send them our money so they can lose their lives spreading the gospel instead of us.
(4) Let us lead our churches to die willingly.
A high view of God’s sovereignty fuels death-defying devotion to global missions. Pastors who believe that God is sovereign over all things will lead Christians to die for the sake of all peoples.
Romanian pastor Josef Tson recounted a time he was being interrogated by six men. He said to one of them:
What is taking place here is not an encounter between you and me. This is an encounter between my God and me. . . . My God is teaching me a lesson [through you]. I do not know what it is. Maybe he wants to teach me several lessons. I only know, sirs, that you will do to me only what God wants you to do—and you will not go one inch further—because you are only an instrument of my God. Every day I saw those six pompous men as nothing more than my Father’s puppets!
During an early interrogation I had told an officer who was threatening to kill me, “Sir, let me explain how I see this issue. Your supreme weapon is killing. My supreme weapon is dying. Here is how it works. You know that my sermons on tape have spread all over the country. If you kill me, those sermons will be sprinkled with my blood. Everyone will know I died for my preaching. And everyone who has a tape will pick it up and say, ‘I’d better listen again to what this man preached, because he really meant it; he sealed it with his life.’ So, sir, my sermons will speak ten times louder than before. I will actually rejoice in this supreme victory if you kill me.” After I said this, the interrogator sent me home. Another officer who was interrogating a pastor friend of mind told him, “We know that Mr. Tson would love to be a martyr, but we are not that foolish to fulfill his wish.” I stopped to consider the meaning of that statement. I remembered how for many years, I had been afraid of dying. I had kept a low profile. Because I wanted badly to live, I had wasted my life in inactivity. But now that I had placed my life on the altar and decided I was ready to die for the Gospel, they were telling me they would not kill me! I could go wherever I wanted in the country and preach whatever I wanted, knowing I was safe. As long as I tried to save my life, I was losing it. Now that I was willing to lose it, I found it.
Let us be finished and done with puny theology that results in paltry approaches to missions in our churches.
Let us believe deeply in the sovereign God of the universe who holds the destiny of the world (and our lives) in the palm of his hand.
Let us see the hopeless state of man before God apart from Christ, and let us lead our churches to pray, to give, and to go to unreached peoples with the greatest news in all the world.
We have been saved by a graciously, globally, gloriously particular sacrifice, so let us lead our churches and let us give our lives—let’s lose them, if necessary—for the advancement of Christ’s kingdom and the accomplishment of Christ’s commission.
And let’s not stop until the slaughtered Lamb of God and sovereign Lord of all receives the full reward of his sufferings.
Yup, it is a mouthful, but from where I sit right now, one week after the Together for the Gospel (T4G) 2012 conference I am still wading through my thoughts, God’s guidance and the pastoral encouragements given to me by Dr. CJ Markalbiti DeChandleplatterpiper III.
When you spend a few days immersed in fellowship with brothers and sisters in Christ, listening to powerful preaching from faithful expositors of God’s Word, praising God in simple but passionate worship and catching up with co-laborers from all over the country it is truly like drinking from a fire hose. So, the aftermath settling of all of those factors, but in particular, the preaching of God’s Word is still actively at work in me.
Now, I went to the conference with every desire to blog every day and share some personal reflections, however, God convicted me that I just needed to listen, be fed and that the motives of my desire were tinged with pride. So, I confessed my sin, sat back, listened and was glad for the relief and His ministry to my heart. Then, almost as a confirmation, I received an e-mail alerting me to the fact that Justin Taylor had updated his blog. I had just sat through the sixth General session with Kevin DeYoung and when I checked up to see what Justin Taylor had written I was warmly thankful because he had posted the notes from all the previous sessions including the one that had ended not ten minutes prior. Thank you Justin Taylor!!
So, over the next few weeks I want to share with you some of my personal reflections on those messages preached by Dr. CJ Markalbiti DeChandleplatterpiper III. I can honestly say that God brought an incredible cohesiveness to the conference through the theme of “The Underestimated Gospel”, the speakers, the times of singing, the testimonies and the conversation with my friends that followed.
My books are still in boxes as our church, Gateway Bible Church, is a church plant and we have not graduated to the place where we have an office, although Panera and Starbucks suffice and are a great way to meet people.
Every once in a while I pull down a box and rummage around to see what I’ve got. It is kind of like getting a package from Amazon. You sort of know what is in the box, but since you placed your order you have forgotten and the anticipation of opening the box is exhilarating…
O.K. that may be an overstatement, but I enjoy the rummaging. A few days ago I found a journal from two years ago and was very encouraged by what I wrote. It gave me strength for God’s purposes then and has been a fresh reminder for what God is doing now. I share them with you to give you confidence in God’s Grace and to be personally encouraged.
“Rod, get your hands off the wheel and let me drive! God” (Actually sent to me from my good friend, Tigg Vanaman)
“Rod, resist self-pity, fight hard against disillusionment (especially at what I am doing), don’t listen to yourself, but speak my truth to your heart. God” (Actually that was sent to me from another good friend, Fred Froman)
“Rod, behind a present frowning providence He hides a smiling face. God” (Actually, that is from William Cowper, whom I have never met because he died over a hundred years ago…but was a great hymn writer.)
I kept these quotes before me every day and, along with God’s Word, meditated on the wise counsel they presented.
Good friends, God’s Word and wise counsel are a means of God’s grace during times of trial…
I know that I have read John chapter 5 many times, but it wasn’t until the last few weeks that I realized how important it is. Oh, we know about John 3 because it contains probably the favorite verse of Christendom and the incredible interaction that Jesus has with Nicodemus, a questioning Jewish leader. We also know about John 4 because of the classic encounter that Jesus has with the Samaritan woman at the well. But we are probably not so familiar with John 5.
Why is that the case? Maybe it is because all we focus on is the narrative parts of the Gospels. Maybe the kind of discourse Jesus gives is pretty overwhelming, hard to understand or even rather technical. Maybe we just want to get from the healing of an invalid to the feeding of the 5000 in chapter 6 that we have not taken time to discover the rich truth of John 5. But, I want to encourage you to look there and study what John reveals to us, giving us evidence that will lead to our belief which will, in turn, lead to our abundant life (John 20:30-31).
John Chapter 5 is an account of Jesus’ deliberate provocation through the healing of an invalid man at the pool of Bethesda on the Sabbath. The Jews, or as I like to call them, the Sabbath Police (the religious leadership) are offended that the once healed man is walking around town carrying his mat. The fact that he is healed doesn’t seem to catch their attention, but the fact that he is violating their Sabbath regulations does. It is quite a sad picture, isn’t it, but this story is much more than a lesson on “how to bring glory to God by breaking the distorted Jewish Sabbath rules!” It is, however, a deliberate action by Jesus to enter into a conversation with the Sabbath Police regarding the fact that He is equal with God and therefore, He is God. Now I say conversation, not because we have record of the Sabbath Police’s words with Jesus, but only because they were speaking questions in their hearts that Jesus already knew about. Here is how John records it…
17 But Jesus answered them, “My Father is working until now, and I am working.” 18 This was why the Jews were seeking all the more to kill him, because not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God.
So, Jesus is now on trial. He is being accused of claiming equality with God as well as responsible for inciting another to break Sabbath, and both were blasphemy to the Sabbath Police. What happens next is a beautiful picture of Christ’s humility coupled with His authority. He takes time to defend His claim to be equal with God by giving the following evidence. First, he wants his hearers to understand that His equality with God is rooted in the fact that He is united together in His actions (i.e. creation), love (an intimate phileo relationship) and responsibility as a giver of life and a judge of the world. Jesus is not saying that He is equal with the father as if He is another god somehow competing with the father. No, He is saying that He is intimately united and that unity is the source of His Equality. Second, Jesus stresses that those two responsibilities, giving spiritual life and judging in the resurrection can only be accomplished if He is equal with God.
21 For as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whom he will. 23 that all may honor the Son, just as they honor the Father. Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him.
In other words, if you deny that I am equal with the Father then you are denying the Father and you not only dishonor Me but you also dishonor the Father whom you call God.
Now, what happens next is truly amazing. Jesus is on trial and in a typical trial there are many elements: An accusation, a defense, witnesses, accusers and a verdict given either by a presiding judge or a jury. So, in true trial fashion Jesus, the accused, give his defense (5:17-30), but he also recognizes that His testimony is inadmissible alone in a Jewish court of law. In order for it to have any bearing there must be some corroborating testimony to His claim to be equal with God.
So, He first appeals to the testimony of John the Baptist whom the Sabbath Police initially embraced as a true prophet. In fact they were drawn to him and rejoiced at the fact that after 400 years God was, once again, speaking through a prophet. But over time, when they actually listened to his message, they turned away from him, but not before hearing him say about Jesus…
34 …I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God.” John 1:34 (ESV)
Next, Jesus appeals to the testimony of His Works, which can best be understood as the signs that Jesus was doing throughout Jerusalem, Samaria and the region of Galilee. Although John’s gospel specifies seven signs, the reality is that each miracle pointed to Jesus as being God and having qualities and power that only God could have.
Finally, Jesus appeals to the testimony of Scripture, emphasizing that
39 …it is they (the Scriptures) that bear witness about me.
This, of course reminds me of the words that Jesus shared with the two confused and discouraged disciples on the road to Emmaus who having listened to Jesus said…
32 …“Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?” Luke 24:32
So, with three separate and weighty witnesses giving their testimony Jesus corroborates His personal claim. But, He is not done talking. Unlike our western trails, in the Jewish context the one accused has an opportunity to say something to and about those who are the accusers. So, Jesus takes the opportunity to confront them in three areas: Their ignorance due to their inability to understand the Scriptures; their emptiness due to the lack of the love of God in their hearts; and, their unbelief because they are not willing to accept the evidence clearly presented, but are willing to embrace false messiahs if they will scratch their backs and elevate them.
That was a scathing confrontation, but Jesus isn’t done. Although He is the one being accused His humility continues to be demonstrated as He recuses His right to be the Judge in this trial. Instead He establishes that Moses, one of their hero’s, the one through whom their beloved Law was written would be their judge and weight the evidence in the favor of Jesus.
There is one who accuses you: Moses, on whom you have set your hope. 46 For if you believed Moses, you would believe me; for he wrote of me. 47 But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe my words?”
The accusation has been made, a defense has been given, three witnesses have been heard, the accusers have been fairly confronted and the verdict is in…
Jesus is, in fact, equal with God. He is God!
Now, the point that John’s Gospel is making is that we are the jury. We have the opportunity to look at the evidence and consider if it warrants belief in the Gospel. If we do, and we believe, John promises that we will have everlasting life and we will have it abundantly. (John 20:30-31)
For all of you un-Latinofied people out there it is not called a Quesadilla but a Quinceanera. It’s not cheesy and there are no chimichanga’s involved (what is a chimichanga anyway?) although at the reception we did have loads and loads of Fajita’s, and they were good!
When my family moved from Michigan to California my children further discovered their Latin roots and culture as my wife is a second generation Mexican and our extended family is enormous. We don’t go out for Mexican any more. We have it regularly at home and especially when the family gets together for a BBQ (Carne Asada), for Thanksgiving (Chumpe) for Christmas (Tamales) and New Year’s (Menudo – Yikes!).
Now apart from great food, one of the wonderful cultural influences that we have come to love is the Quinceanera celebration which is a “coming of age” birthday celebration for a young lady on fifteenth birthday. I could say that it is simply a birthday on steroids, but you might get the idea that what I am talking about is bigger and better dunk tanks, inflatables, giant hamburgers and the like. But that isn’t what I want to convey.
Let’s just say that a Quinceanera is a birthday party of sorts but the emphasis of the celebration is a much more purposeful time to rejoice with her, to challenge her and to encourage her about the life she has to live beyond that birthday.
Now, I am a pastor and the reality is that ‘most’ Qunceanera’s are written and formatted from a Catholic perspective, so I was forced to create a Gospel-Centered Quinceanera for my two daughters taking the elements traditionally included in the Quinceanera and bringing God’s Word and His Gospel to bear.
What follows is the ceremony that I developed for any of you who may be in my shoes wanting to honor their daughter’s with a Quinceanera, or their own “coming of age” ceremony, from a Christ-Centered perspective. Please feel free to use and adapt as you see fit. It worked exceptionally well for us and if it can help you I am more than happy to share it.
Now, there is some preliminary stuff to consider.
Selection of Dama’s – I find it best to describe a Quinceanera as a wedding without the groom (may it never change!) So, my daughter selected eight of her close friends to be her “Dama’s”, much like bridesmaids in a wedding.
Officiator – Although I am a Pastor and, therefore, it was natural for me to preside over the ceremony. I would like to encourage every Dad to consider an opportunity here. I can’t think about a much better way for a Father to honor his daughters. If you just don’t feel comfortable then ask your Pastor, maybe the Youth Pastor or someone who knows your daughter well enough, rather than a stranger. This is too intimate a ceremony for pure formality.
We did have two special numbers sung from two friends, another friend play the piano for the prelude, as well as a DVD slide-show of my daughter’s life and some Scripture Reading.
We included a time for “Encouragements” where those in attendance were given opportunity to say some words, Scripture or some memories.
We also selected two of the Dama’s to share something specific and to encourage our daughter to live her life for God’s glory, etc.
My wife and I presented our daughter with a ‘purity ring’ praising for her purity and encouraging her to keep herself pure for the man whom God would bring her way in marriage.
Grandma & Grandpa presented her with a Bible emphasizing the need to keep God’s Word central.
Below is the core of my Charge to my daughter. Of course, there was much more meat on the bones of this outline and you will come up with your own stories and explain God’s Word as you see fit and appropriate for the occasion.
Your Birth – It is etched in my memory as one of the hardest times in my life…I got a phone call at the church that Mom was in excruciating pain and that the EMT’s were on their way…I arrived home to find her in the care of the Fire Dept. but still in great pain…as I followed the ambulance to the hospital all I could think about was the real possibility of losing you or mom in the whole ordeal. The doctors at the hospital couldn’t determine why Mom was in so much pain and your heart rate was increasing, so although you were 7 weeks early, they recommended an emergency C-section. You were born and mom was safe, but for the next two weeks you were under special care, and mom and I would spend hours just holding your hand and rubbing your tummy…
When we finally took you home – I told you mom, “She looks like a Rubber Chicken” – so scrawny, with long legs…
You would eat like a Rabbit – And we wouldn’t let you leave the table until you finished a tiny portion of food…
Your three pointer against “Head Royce” – and all your excitement at the fact that you made a basket.
The Quinceanera is a “coming of age” ceremony that emphasizes the transition from girl to womanhood. Its purpose is to emphasize the following realities in your life…
1 The Centrality of God in Your Life
4 Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart. Psalm 37:4 (ESV)
That verse sounds like the cultural message of our society saying, “follow your heart”, but that isn’t what God is saying here.
God hasn’t promised to give you the desires of your heart. What he promises is that when you delight in Him that you will be changed and conformed to His will and ways so that in turn your desires will be conformed to His desires.
What that means is that His desires will then be evident within you and that your desires will be a reflection of His desires in you. They will be your delight just as much as God is.
Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; 2 but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night. 3 He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers. Psalm 1:1–3 (ESV)
2 The Importance of Family
You are stuck with Family and Family is Stuck with you! The ties of “Flesh & Blood” are strong and that’s a good thing – in good times and bad.
Look around at your family. They are here in support of you. Many have labored hard to make this day possible and they want the best for you.
Family is always a resource that you can turn to. So be sure to love, serve and honor your family. The instruction from God’s Word to “Honor your parents so that it will go well with you” doesn’t end with becoming a Young Woman. No, it is a life-long commitment.
3 The Embracing of Adulthood Responsibility
With age and maturity comes greater responsibility, a responsibility that is generated out of initiative.
Responsibility means that you “want to” because it is “right”, not because you are being “told to”. It is taking ownership of your place and role in the family, in the church, with your peers and in your community.
4 The Selflessness of Service in your Community & Church
Your place in the church is to use your God given gifts for His Glory. Find your place, use your gifts: your voice, piano playing, encouraging personality, writing ability, your energy.
Your place in your community is to shine the light of the Gospel by living a life consistent with God’s Word and then doing Good Works as a testimony to His Name.
Note: I found this a great place to share the Gospel in the ceremony and to give a rational as to why living for God’s Glory as a faithful child of God is so important for the believer and for a young woman.
5 Establishing Friendships that will help you do all these things…
Friendships are important to growth and character. You must choose your friends wisely as well as seek to be a Godly friend to others, to influence them toward Christ-likeness and the principles you are embracing and affirming today.
Note: I referred back to Psalm 1:1 and to the reality that bad choices in friends is a quick entry point for failure in the principles already mentioned.
When I think of all of these qualities my mind goes to a Biblical example…
Ruth – She was Loyal to God, to her Family. She took on Responsibility by caring for her Mother in Law, working tirelessly and both selflessly & humbly pursuing the good of the family through the line of Boaz.
God honored her for her selfless loyalty to her family and to her responsibilities even when most others would have walked away.
Becoming a Young Woman is a time to dig deep and be strong. It is a time to take on hard challenges and to do all those things knowing the power and presence of God in your life.
I want to leave you with one passage of Scripture that encompasses all of these essential qualities. It is familiar, but that is because it is so rich.
5Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. 6 In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. Proverbs 3:5–6 (ESV)
I wish you could see how beautiful you look today. God has truly blessed you and Mom and I with your beauty. I am thankful for that. But please understand, the beauty that lasts is the kind of beauty that comes from the inside out. It is a beauty of Character. Of putting God first, honoring family, taking on responsibility and serving others. These are all activities that come out of a heart of Character.
May God give you strength, wisdom and discernment as you seek to live your life for His glory from this day on.
Note: I hope that this can be a help to others who want to think through ways of encouraging their daughters to live for God’s glory!
Recently I sat down to learn about the mother of one of my parishoners as I have been asked to officiate at her funeral. I already knew that she was Dutch Indonesian like my uncle, something that I really hadn’t researched before, but what I didn’t ralize until he told me is that she and her parents had spent time in a prison camp under that Japanese conquest of Indonesia during the second World War.
That got me thinking. I really don’t know much about WW2 beyond the events that related either directly to the US forces or the British Military. That, of course, is understandable as one usually views such history from the perspective of the nation that is teaching it. So I did a quick Google search and came across this article, Traces of war: Dutch and Indonesian survivors, in which three men give their testimonies about struggle, abuse, endurance, horror, anger and revenge. In these articles the survivors are very candid about their experiences, yet there is much for us to learn about the nature of man, both in the abuse received at the hands of the Japanese as well as all the emotions that the survivors share were taking place and still take place in their hearts.
Below is the first of the three interviews followed by a few reflective comments of my ownd…
“During the Dutch period, my father was a forester on an enormous estate of some 25 by 30 miles. There were seven of us, and I was the sixth child. From age seven on, I lived with my grandfather. He was a nose, throat and ear specialist in Yogya. That’s why I could attend the Javanese school there. We didn’t use the Latin alphabet but Javanese script instead. The school had a three-year program. This is about as far as people belonging to the lower classes would get. You could only continue your education if you were descended from the kraton (the court of the sultan). So I went back to my parents and I assisted my father in his capacity as forester. Then the war started.
In June 1942, a Japanese soldier by the name of Kawakubu came to our village and asked my father if there were any people who could work, for wages, of course. My father then gave him my name. They first assigned me to help build a tunnel at Parangtritis, south of Yogya, on the coast. We didn’t get paid at all, however, and they told my father they’d kill him if he’d come to fetch me. Sure, the Japanese told us repeatedly: ‘We’ve come to free you from colonial oppression.’ But meanwhile they forced us to work for them!
We left from Gunung Kidul for Parangtritis with about 500 people. My estimate is that about 300 survived. It’s hard to be precise, for people were not buried but simply tossed into the sea. Some eight months later they shipped us out by the hundreds, including about 100 people belonging to the Gunung Kidul group. It turned out that they had taken us to Digul (in Irian Jaya, a former Dutch penal colony in what was then New Guinea) to cut trees for building a road and a prison. Compared to this place, Parangtritis had been pleasant. There at least we got a piece of cassava the size of my fist, and we could fetch water from a small mountain lake. In Digul, however, we were left to our own devices and so we had to forage for ourselves. For food, you had to look in the jungle. We ate leaves, and any snake you’d find was good for roasting.
That lasted for three months. They promised they’d give us a present if we did really well. So I started to work extra hard. But I got nothing. And nobody got anything. We dared not make any demands, either, for fear of being killed. Many of us died there, including a lot of my friends. Especially because of hunger, but also because of bad treatment.
I already said: there were about 100 of us from Gunung Kidul who went to Digul. When we left three months later, there were 75 of us left. I was not exactly in good shape anymore, and that was true for most of us. Many of them were ill, but I wasn’t. We were just skin and bones and we’d lost all strength. At first it took just four of us to drag a tree trunk, but toward the end it easily took 12 men to do so.
Finally, they told us we could go home. Everybody was elated. ‘Things are already going fine with your country,’ they told us. My parents received a batik cloth of the brand Becak, which I was alleged to have sent them, but I knew nothing about it. But about halfway, in the middle of the ocean, we began to ask ourselves: ‘Where on earth are they taking us this time?’ There was no land to be seen anywhere. The voyage took a month. Sometimes it was quite scary, with high waves, and several times the boat couldn’t continue because of engine failure. We finally arrived and got off the ship and that’s when we panicked: Where on earth were we? This wasn’t Indonesia, but then what country was it? This was certainly the case when we met people we couldn’t understand. After one week, I found out that we were in Burma. That’s what other romushas told us. And we asked them: ‘Where then is Burma?’ Well, they didn’t know, either.
In Burma, life for a romusha was terrible. But compared to Digul it was better. I was fortunate to have a Syrian for my supervisor. He didn’t beat people, wasn’t cruel. However, there were Japanese there, too, and if we did anything wrong, they’d beat us up vigorously with their rubber truncheons. That was no joke. If you got beaten with that truncheon it would remove your skin when bouncing back, and that caused a lot of pain.
This is where I had to dig away dirt and stones for laying the track. Once I was smothered by an avalanche of earth. We were digging a tunnel when, all of a sudden, the walls caved in and I was buried. People were lying on top of me and underneath me. I was, therefore, not directly covered with earth and still had a bit of room to breathe. There had been quite a lot of us, maybe 50 or so, and only about seven survived. After two days and two nights, they dug me out, using a bulldozer. ‘I’m still alive, I’m still alive!’ I cried. But all those lying on top of me were dead. I immediately lost consciousness after this and I didn’t come to until a week later.
Whenever we’d come back from work to our barracks, I’d lie and think: How will I ever get home again? And where is home? I do not even know how to get there. Also, what am I going to eat? It was pure torture. There wasn’t anybody without edema: We were all swollen, but not because of our good health. When you pressed into our skin, little marks would remain. It was all moisture. Everybody was suffering hair loss, and later I heard that it had to do with malnutrition. Well, what do you expect, considering the food we got. What one man eats today, we had to share with the five of us.
During the day, while working, my thoughts went in all directions. I especially thought of my parents and my family. Would they still be alive, or had the Japanese maybe killed them already? And did the Japanese actually still rule Indonesia? It made it all more difficult. We often talked about our families, too. That made us quite emotional, and we cried. I really didn’t have any hope left that I’d ever get free. Whether or not I’d stay alive or be murdered was something I left up to God.
I had a friend called Selam, who came from the same village I did. He was so without any hope at all that he simply gave up one day and died. Eleven of us had left my village of Parangtritis as a romusha. Four were either beaten or kicked to death. One of them died in Digul, and then Selam died in Burma.
The five of us were very sad when he died. Whether we wept openly or not, we all wept in our hearts. We didn’t know either if or where he’d been buried, at sea or on land. He’d been wrapped in a cloth and the Japanese had taken him away in a truck. Following his death, the bond between the five of us only grew stronger. If you die here, then for all intents and purposes I will die here, too, that’s what the mood among us was. We’re all in this together. We tried to cheer up one another, especially by telling stories: Old Javanese histories and myths. One of us could tell stories from the Ramayana well, another about the history of the ancient kingdom of Demak (the first Islamic kingdom in 16th century Indonesia).
I think every one of us had something special, a force that helped us to survive. One of us got tied up by the Japanese one day and kept under water for over five hours. His head, too. But yet he survived! How, I couldn’t tell, that I do not know. But after that the mandurs (foremen) were afraid of him. There were five principles we clung to: honesty, obedience to Japanese rules, not being selfish, to conquer hunger with patience, and the belief that the five of us would return as one alive to our families. This came about after Selam’s death.
We spent exactly one year in Burma. One of my friends kept track by putting little stripes on his arm. We couldn’t bathe, so the stripes remained visible. One day, our Syrian foreman let it slip that we’d be going home in two weeks. He said: ‘Don’t tell the other mandurs I told you. But when you will all be back in your own country, then please let me know what has become of you.’
I didn’t quite trust this news, thinking: for all we know we’ll be killed now. However, after a month on board the boat, sometimes with high waves again, we arrived in Surabaya. From there, the five of us went back to Gunung Kidul. We tried to hitch a ride with trucks, but since we looked like a bunch of beggars or vagabonds nobody stopped. In the end, we began to walk: it took us 21 days.
When I arrived, everybody cried. They thought I’d been dead long since. I certainly looked quite different, because of the edema. During the first month, my family treated me a bit like a retiree, as it were. I was not allowed to work and they fed me very well.
The five of us, meanwhile, could think of nothing but revenge. We wanted to find that Kawakubu, the Japanese soldier who had enticed us to come along with his false pretenses, and we wanted to make him pay. However, just then Sultan Hamengkubuwono IX of Yogya decreed that people could not take justice into their own hands. Vengeance was forbidden. And the sultan possessed certain powers. He could be in more places than one at the same time, for example. And if he should get angry with you and wish you dead, then you’d die, just like that and all at once. We feared him and so we abandoned our notions of revenge.
Because of all these experiences a person changes, naturally. Before I left, I had experienced nothing, let alone such a bitter experience as this. That changes the way you think entirely. I tend to think a lot more about things nowadays. I’ve learned to control myself. Anger only makes things worse. Through self-control you are actually able to prevent a situation from getting worse, from ever getting as bad as it was then.
I still dream a lot about those days, especially about the work we did: dragging stones, that sort of thing. And about that voyage across the sea. Those high waves. That results in a nightmare once in a while, and then I find myself screaming out loud. Whenever that happens, my wife has to wake me up. Then she says: ‘Better have something to drink first, and then tell me what that dream was all about.’ My gosh, to think that after 50 years I’m still dreaming about that!
I still think about it a lot and I often talk about it with my children and grandchildren. At first they could not believe I had experienced such cruelty. They simply could not comprehend it. They couldn’t until they had read books from the library.
I tell them these things so that they will treat other people well, not oppress or hurt them. Yes, and that includes the Japanese as well. Especially by reading Javanese books, I came to the realization that those dark emotions are no good. We are all brothers. Hostility among people only makes us weaker. And in the end, all that evil has still resulted in something good where Indonesia is concerned: our independence. Without it, we would never have become independent.”
As you can imagine reading such accounts makes me feel like my life has been relatively free of suffering, injustice, and heart-wrenching tragedy. In fact, I feel somewhat guilty for the ease 0f life that I have experienced that is truly a gift of grace, or maybe it is simply a reminder that I am soft and could never endure such hardships. Still, there are three ways that this article impacted me: As a member of humanity, as a follower of Christ and as a Shepherd of God’s people.
As I contemplate humanity I know that extreme and continual suffering has been something I have only read about, seen pictures of and watched either in re-creation through the medium of film or real-life YouTube footage. The truth is I can only empathize, but experiential knowledge is far from me. Sure, I can tell you of times in my life (primarily youth) when I was picked on, ostracized or had a switchblade pressed against my chest, but it just doesn’t compare. The reality is that there are hundreds and thousands, if not more, who have and presently are experiencing the kind of suffering and abuse that I cannot even imagine. There is also true evil in the heart of oppressors who begin to see their prisoners as nothing more than animals to be used to accomplish their own ends of building roads, tunnels, structures and the like, and to push them to the point of death. It is hard to comprehend. It is shameful, but it is the result of sin that is rampant in mankind who doesn’t know God.
As a follower of Christ I read this account with horror, but also with an open heart to the reality of suffering that non-believers have also had to endure throughout history and in our contemporary context. We talk much of the persecution of the church, and we should, but we must also remember that suffering is experienced by all and our compassion should be directed to those who don’t know the Lord just as much as to those who do. We naturally want to hear about the endurance of believers and the ways in which Christ gave them strength to endure such hardships – and He does and has. Still, there is a resilience that is compelling from these testimonies of those who don’t know Christ. I am compelled to consider how they processed their suffering, the places in their hearts that the suffering took them and the methods or resolve that they established simply to help them day by day, hour by hour. Here is the covenant that the five men established:
“There were five principles we clung to: honesty, obedience to Japanese rules, not being selfish, to conquer hunger with patience, and the belief that the five of us would return as one alive to our families.”
As a Shepherd of God’s people I am reminded that I need to be very careful to not judge a person by what I see before me, especially those who are older and have lived long lives. Just like my life has been full of experiences, so those under my care may have had past lives that they just don’t talk about, but are full of struggle, endurance, affliction, abuse and heart wrenching tragedy. I am reminded that I have a lot to learn about people, to be willing to listen to their counsel as well as realize that they may have much more to offer than I can even comprehend.
I have been the recipient of God’s goodness and grace. Yet, He never promises that His grace will be free from struggle, abuse and great trial. In fact, some of the greatest ways He grows us is through difficult trial. I have to remember that His grace is always good, each and every day.