Danger! Stay away!

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The Martyrdom of St. Mark, by Fra Angelico

Why on earth would anyone voluntarily go to a tribe or people who have the show violence? Especially lethal violence towards Christians! These are people who have no interest in the Gospel, haven’t searched the Internet for missionaries, and feel quite good about their religion.

Better to show humility in other ways—going where we are invited, where people may be responsive, and those who serve will not be in danger.

Besides, if the church really wants to have a go at hostile crowds, are there not other ways to make an impact? And from a safe distance? Or maybe this just isn’t the time for them. They have made their bed, and we can let them lie in it—until a glimmer of interest emerges.


Well-reasoned and not without merit. That is one way of looking at dangerous unharvested fields. There is another way, one that looks the danger in the eye and keeps going.

First, a sobering word about martyrs. We lern of them in the Middle East and North Africa. We hear stories and read the grim and sad reports. Sadly, the reality is worse than what the news tells us. The best records for martyrs over long periods comes from the research of The Center for the Study of Global Christianity. You can visit their website at www.globalchristianity.org. But let me warn you—the information there is so amazing and startling, you will want to linger.

Their research for the years 2005 until 2015 shows a stunning total of 900,000 martyrs. That means an average of 90,000 martyrs per year over those ten years. Yes, the reality of the suffering church is far worse that what gets reported.

Danger, yes, increasingly so.

In the face of this expectation, there must be a different way of assessing Christ’s call to dangerous lands. Let me mention three: suffering, the power of God’s love, and the resurrection,

1. Of all the suffering recorded in the Bible, certainly the most opprobrious was Christ’s. His was physical, emotional, and spiritual and in measurements only the Son of God could experience. But before He met His betrayal and death, He faced His followers and told them what to expect. “If they have done this to the Son of Man, they will do this to you.” The point is that suffering is part of what Christians should expect.

2. The love of God the Father through the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit is the most powerful force in the world. This is unmatched power for inner healing, for hope, for taking hold of new life, for leaving the regrettable past behind, for rising from abuse or handicap. As we fold in the grace of the Father’s love, we find all that is summoned in the phrase of being born again. And, of course, from that love comes the forgiveness and acceptance of our Creator and His Son.

Christians know that. Christians can quote Romans 5:7: “While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”

But if we only apply that to ourselves, we have turned that great truth into a selfie. Is there a person, a sinner, a tribe, a people group that could not be included in Romans 5:7? We have the high calling and precious opportunity to go to violent and hostile people and tell them where they can find love, joy, and peace.

3. The resurrection of Jesus Christ is called the “first fruits.” That means that His resurrection presages ours. As He rose bodily, ate food, carried on conversations with friends, and then ascended to heaven, all that awaits Christians.

Yes, there is a powerful and unbroken link joining this future hope with this-world decisions of Christians to go into danger. After all, they take with them the Gospel truth for those sinners who haven’t dreamed there could be love like that found in the heart of God.

The stories of martyrs are stirring tales, but don’t miss what lies beneath the grim endings. Within the heart of these martyrs there stirs a love for Jesus Christ that surpasses love for their own lives. Their hearts carry love for His people, those whose violence makes the news. They were not made to live that way, and God’s power can reverse their destiny and give them a new birth.

Last week I read a report from Christians in Syria. I do not know the people who sent this message, but I know the organization that reported it. I believe it is trustworthy. The report was three prayer requests from Syrian Christians who will soon be baptized soon. They know the dangers and send these three requests:
That they will die quickly if captured
That they will not deny Jesus under torture
That they will have boldness to speak the truth and to forgive.

One other martyrdom has stayed with me. The scene was Japan in the 1600s when numerous Christians were crucified. One day the executioners passed over a young woman, in deference to her gender and age.

When she realized this, she told them that she would not shun from death for her Savior. He had stayed by her with a love that was unfailing, giving her hope in all circumstances and courage in death. Turning to the executioners, she asked, “Which cross is mine?”

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The Qashqa’i of Iran

A Qashqa'i family

A Qashqa’i Clan

The point of the Thoroughbred analogy of last week is that God is a mighty God and always at work in mighty ways: “…more than we can desire or ask for,” as Cranmer wrote in one of his collects. We call the unharvested fields “unreached,” and maybe they are by us, but they are jealously loved by God.

The profile this week is of the Qashqa’i of Iran, a non-Persian group near the Zagros mountains of Iran.  They were one of the world’s least evangelized peoples in the 1990s with no pastor, no verse of Scripture, and no known Christians. Here are five times that the Thoroughbred of heaven showed his power to the Qashqa’i of Iran.

1. Unity. I worked with the early team concentrating on them. We consisted of five different agencies: one from each of the two Southern Baptist agencies, Wycliffe, the Friends, Korean Presbyterian, and Anglican/Episcopalian. We were: clergy, dentist, linguist, doctor, and one had the distinction of having won a blue ribbon in his state fair for his beer recipe. (No, not me, though I did brew at one time and definitely would not have received a blue ribbon for my batch.)

Not only were we across the board in background, but we got along very well. At one of our meetings, the Quaker said, “Tad, you all baptize by sprinkling. You Baptists dunk. We Quakers don’t baptize at all. It will be great to see how the Holy Spirit handles this.”

2. Extraordinary miracle. These stories must be verified, for they invite exaggeration. This story was told to me about the Qashqa’i. A later source said it occurred with a different non-Persian group. I will present it as I first heard it.

A group of missionaries were distributing copies of the Scriptures in a city near the Zagros Mountains. No one seemed interested. They decided to go towards the Persian Gulf and find other villages. On the way their jeep broke down on a bridge. They looked up and saw a man wearing a Qashqa’i hat coming down the mountain to their jeep.

This man was part of a Qashqa’i village. The men there had been meeting and discussing parts of the Qur’an. They all said that Isa (Jesus) gets lots of attention, but no one knew much about who He was. That night one of the men had a dream. In the dream a man appeared to him and told him that if he would go down the mountain to where the road goes over a bridge, he would get information about Isa.

The next day, as he approached the men in the jeep, he said, “I have come to find out who Jesus is.”

3. Conversion. The Feast of the Transfiguration, August 6, 1996, as the date when the first Qashqa’i came to faith. He was living outside of Iran when he met the Lord. Later one of our workers went to visit him, taking with him recording equipment. When he left about a week later, he had with him a tape of the man’s conversion, key words used for translation, a reading of Luke for an early version of the Jesus Film—all in the Qashqa’i language–and an experience he said was the best seven days of his life.

4. Translation. The linguists on our team were not from the US, so they could enter Iran. The husband went alone to visit a Qashqa’i camp. On his way, his driver stopped the car and proceeded to beat him up and take his possessions.

A Qashqa’i leader saw this and intervened, saving the linguist. So embarrassed was the Qashqa’i man that the Muslim code of hospitality was blemished (cf. Lev. 19:33,34) he brought the linguist into the camp, and they all treated him as honored guest. He kept his notebook handy as he innocently asked about their words and grammar. That information was fed into a Wycliffe program for a similar language and saved over eight years of translation of the Qashqa’i Bible.

5. Sacrifice. The convert returned to his village after his conversion. He risked his life for telling of his faith in Jesus Christ. Nonetheless he did tell his family, and soon he was leading a small group of people studying the Bible.

6. Who knows? Those events occurred at least a decade ago. Of course there have been more developments. God is at work, and we may be certain that the might and the love and the truth of the God and Father of the Lord Jesus Christ continue to lift His name for those Qashqa’i who will worship Him in everlasting joy.

This brings me to a welcome update about the Bagri, the people I profiled two weeks ago. From the research I had available, I wrote that there was no translation for them and no known agency working among them.

I was happily corrected by two readers. One wrote that he and his agency had been working with the Bagri for over ten years. He said there are 80 small house churches among them, an ordained pastor, and ten deacons.

The other writer works with the Jesus Film. He wrote that the Jesus Film has been made in the Bagri language along with one other Bible film.

Our calling is to go where God is at work. The unharvested fields are also places where God is mightily at work, jealous for His glory. If we ask how we can join Him there, we will receive.

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The Church as Thoroughbred

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I give you the thoroughbred horse as an image for the local church. I mean a muscle-rippling, hot and eager horse, eyes flashing, hooves pawing, nostrils sucking air, and ears alert. This horse is poised with explosive power, anticipating the spurs, all the time expressing an aura of confidence and intention.
With that image, how could there be unfulfilled destinies of God’s people? Well, I offer six rationales:

1. Our plates are full, and our calendars have few openings. We are busy. This church already has a bridle on a horse, maybe not one of those, but a workhorse, nonetheless.

2. Great image, and very inspiring. But tell me how you are so sure that this horse serves the will of God? Too many tales of others stepping out with “divine courage” and ending up with chaos.

3. If we hitch our agenda to this horse, we will have to push aside all we have set up for the next phase of our church life. This would undo the groundwork I have laid for our stewardship, youth, and education plans. Do you really think that is what God wants?

4. The power of a thoroughbred unleashed here? Why now, when we have never seen power like that before? Hasn’t happened and don’t expect it to happen.

5. I’ve got people who need me. And plenty who are upset—everything from the bass on the praise band to the children’s bathrooms. And you want me to step out in leadership and get on this thoroughbred?

Take your slick image elsewhere.


This does not call for my opinion of God’s church. I will let the Bible direct us. Listen for the thunderous strength of the Thoroughbred.

The Apostle Paul knew the church well. For us he gives these images:
The bulwark and pillar of truth
A holy Temple in the Lord
God’s workmanship
Dwelling place of God in the Spirit.

Here we read some of the purposes of God for the church:
To be stewards of the mysteries of Christ
To preach the unsearchable riches of Christ
To stand against the devil and the powers and authorities of this world
To be lights in this darkened world
To take up the ministry of reconciliation.

Sample statements of who we are should make our ears alert and muscles straining:
Baptized with the Holy Spirit
Given the mind of Christ
Called the Body of Christ
One with Christ as He is one with the Father
Loved by Christ as He is loved by His Father
Received the gifts, ministries, and activities of the Spirit.

We have here the presence of God in our life, the purposes of God entrusted to us, and the power of the Holy Spirit. Can there be any doubt that God wills to work through us, His people? He has called us, sanctified us, empowered us, and given us marching orders. When faithfulness (ours) meets faithfulness (God’s), then we see the grace, power, and love of the Triune God in the paths of the Thoroughbred.

I will give one of my mantras: Good Lord, deliver us from visions of mediocrity.

Isaiah does better than that:
Arise! Shine! For your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you. The Lord will arise upon you and His glory will be seen upon you, and nations (unharvested fields!) shall come to your light and kings to the brightness of your rising.

These words we will hear next Sunday:
If you are raised with Christ, then seek those things that are above, where Christ is—seated on the right hand of God.

The last word belongs to Paul:
Now to Him who is able to do for more abundantly than all we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

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