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WORLDVIEW: Passionate purpose

RICHMOND, Va. (BP)–Early one morning several years ago, I was praying in a church sanctuary with a missionary when he began to cry.

We had been interceding for the few believers — and millions of lost souls — among the people group the missionary serves in Central Asia. Suddenly he was quietly weeping, pleading with God for the salvation of this people. I opened one eye and saw the tears on his cheeks. They glinted in the dawn light filtering through the sanctuary windows.

I’m not the most emotional guy around. I felt a little uncomfortable. Then I realized I was in the presence of Christ. The Master was weeping through the eyes of his servant — a servant who had opened his heart wide enough to experience the compassion Christ feels for the multitudes “harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd” (Matthew 9:36). After that morning I wanted to widen my narrow and selfish heart, too, so Jesus might love lost people through it.

Christ’s compassion is true passion, not the phony variety we see so often today. True and holy passion is always followed by purpose. After seeing the despairing multitude, Jesus told his disciples: “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.”

Christ’s passionate purpose is what the church needs more than ever at this moment in history. War is beginning. Threats probably will multiply against Christian workers — Americans as well as others. The threats will come from those who wrongly believe — or have something to gain from declaring — that current international conflicts are part of a greater Christian-Muslim clash.

Four Southern Baptist workers have died violently in recent months. Others are leaving some particularly volatile places, reluctantly and temporarily, until tensions subside. “I grieve leaving my people in the midst of their troubles,” said one Middle East worker. “My friends understand, but I still feel like I’m abandoning them.” She hopes to go home as soon as possible. Home, as she sees it, is among the needy people she loves. She also knows deep down that the work God has begun will go on regardless of her location.

Yet on March 15, as anxieties among many Americans approached a crescendo, 98 new Southern Baptist workers were appointed to serve around the world — the second-largest group ever.

“Is that not significant?” asks International Mission Board President Jerry Rankin. “They are going out undeterred by danger and risk.”

Why do they go? Many reporters have asked Rankin and others that question in recent days.

“They just don’t get it,” he responds. “Why do journalists go to dangerous places to tell us bad news? Why wouldn’t we go to share good news with people who are hopeless and lost?”

A leader for Southern Baptist work in a particularly unreached part of the Muslim world reports that not a single worker in his area wants to relocate. He tells of one place where there were 10 known believers a few years ago. Now there are 10,000. Among another people, there wasn’t a single church five years ago. Now believers among that people are beginning to take the gospel to other peoples.

“They’re still an unreached people,” he says. “But they’re going to other unreached peoples in places where we can’t send Americans.”

Reports like that are the result of a solid decade of prayer during the 1990s by thousands of intercessors for Muslims to know the love of Jesus, says IMB prayer strategist Randy Sprinkle. Fervent intercession has opened doors locked tight for centuries. But the devil “would love to see all that destroyed in a moment” by hatred, fear and backlash, Sprinkle warns.

That’s why we need to need to remember four commands from Christ: Love your enemies. Bless those who curse you. Do good to those who hate you. Pray for those who mistreat you.

Missionaries Mark and Barbara Stevens were on the scene the day a terrorist bomb blast killed their missionary friend and colleague, Bill Hyde, March 4 at an airport in the Philippines. Mark held Bill’s hand as life ebbed from his body. Barbara was injured. Their infant son, Nathan, was hit by shrapnel. If they had been a few steps closer to the bomb, the whole family would have died. Yet five days later, they ended a letter about the traumatic event with this vow: “We will continue to work until all of the tribal people of the Philippines know Him!”

That kind of love may seem extreme to the world, but not to the one who came to suffer and die in order to redeem the world. He is the same God today as he was then, and as he was when he told an indifferent Jonah to preach repentance to the lost people he loved in ancient Nineveh — located, interestingly enough, in what is now Iraq.

A servant of God put it this way more than four centuries ago:

“Do you know what it is to be truly spiritual? It is to become a slave of God, branded with His seal, the sign of the cross, a token that we have handed ourselves over to Him. He is free, therefore, to sell us as slaves to the whole world, just as He was, and be doing us no wrong thereby, but rather a favor.”
Bridges, whose column appears twice-monthly in Baptist Press, is a senior writer with the Southern Baptist International Mission Board.

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  • Erich Bridges