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WORLDVIEW: No turning back for obedient believers

RICHMOND, Va. (BP)–The young West African woman told of the suffering she has already experienced and the suffering she expects to come.

She was tossed out of her Muslim family’s home for becoming a follower of Christ. Her mother threatened to take her two children away, but her former husband said she could keep them –- for now. In the hard days ahead, she must find a way to survive, to feed her children, to endure the loneliness of being an outcast in a place where family and community mean everything.

Who would blame her for going home and renouncing her Christian faith? Many other new believers have broken under the strain in similar situations.

But her eyes give her away: They flash a glint of steel. She will struggle and fall, but there is no turning back for this disciple. No matter the cost, she will follow Jesus. And she intends to tell many other Muslim women about her amazing discovery of a merciful Lord who loves them personally. The priceless treasure she has found is worth all the hardships she will face in the future.

Across the continent, another seeker made his decision for Christ much later in life –- but with equal determination.

Southern Baptist missionary Daren Davis in Zambia visited the village of Mapungu for the first time several years ago. Villagers expressed interest in the Word of God, so Davis asked to see the village chief to seek permission to return. The missionary sat in the shade of a mango tree and waited for the chief to come.

A few minutes later, he noticed an old man hobbling toward him through the sand, leaning heavily on a stick to support his lame leg. The old man was the headman of Mapungu. He considered Davis’ request and gave him permission to return. Davis and a volunteer team came back a few weeks later and shared the Gospel through chronological Bible storying.

After four days of teaching, a line was drawn in the sand. The villagers were challenged to walk across the line if they were willing to turn away from their sin and make Jesus their Lord.

The first person to move was the old headman. He struggled across the line, dragging his crippled leg with each halting step. When he finally made it, he looked up and declared to everyone, “I want Jesus to be my Lord!” He later was baptized.

The old chief died recently after a long series of illnesses.

“Praise God, he is no longer suffering, and he doesn’t need a stick to help him walk,” Davis said. “He is resting and worshipping in heaven.”

But before departing this world, the chief set the stage for his village -– and his people –- to follow the Lord.

Such decisions are being made every day across the globe. They seldom make headlines, but they are changing history –- step by step, village by village. Not every decision to follow Christ brings persecution; some bring joyful community celebration. But each brings a cross of some kind. God calls all of His children to follow Him -– period.

“You’ve burned your bridges behind you,” International Mission Board President Jerry Rankin recently told a group of new Southern Baptist missionaries. “Dedicate yourself to the Lord, because you have never passed this way before and that old life is left behind.”

Those marching orders apply to all followers of Jesus –- not just the ones called to be missionaries in other cultures. There is no “cheap grace,” said German Lutheran pastor and theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who was martyred by the Nazis for resisting their tyranny. God’s grace is free, but it’s not cheap. If we accept it fully, it will cost us everything –- beginning with our control of self.

“Only the one who obeys believes, and only the one who believes obeys,” Bonhoeffer wrote in his classic book, “The Cost of Discipleship.”

These words seem almost out of place in a day when Christianity is often marketed as a quickie self-help plan along with the latest diet and exercise fads. But the secret to true joy is dying to self and following Jesus, who said, “If you love Me, you will obey what I command” (John 14:15).

“Happy is the soul that no longer possesses anything of its own, not even anything borrowed, and that abandons itself to Jesus, desiring no glory but His,” wrote a wise Christian counselor centuries ago. “Happy is the soul that refuses to listen to self, and refuses to pamper it, but listens to God instead.”

For most of us, that means developing faithfulness and obedience amid the thousands of problems and stresses of daily living. Little crosses, one might call them. Even for missionaries, these are the most common challenges –- not physical dangers or hostility to the Gospel.

“The traffic, the bartering, the staring, the noise, the pollution, the extreme contrasts between rich and poor, being treated like celebrities because of the color of our skin –- all of it produces stress and results in a very intense environment,” one missionary recently admitted. “It’s just been hard to imagine getting comfortable in this place and calling it home.”

But the missionary isn’t giving up: “We are confident we are exactly where God wants us to be…. We are being stretched and challenged by our Father in ways that we might never have experienced if we didn’t obey His direction to this task, in this part of the world.”

Pray for every disciple who “crosses the line” -– whatever that line might be –- to follow the Lord. If you’re standing at the line, don’t be afraid to cross it. God will go with you.
Erich Bridges is senior writer with the Southern Baptist International Mission Board.

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  • Erich Bridges