A mission agency we’ve just started supporting sent us this book by David Platt that I read yesterday in one sitting. In one sense it’s an easy read because it’s gripping. In another sense, it was definitely not an easy read.
I love travel, seeing different places, different parts of God’s creation. But this was a travel story with a difference. It’s an unusual book about time David Platt has spent in the Himalayas. He puts together incidents to take the reader on a week long trek, documenting the beauty, rawness and heartbreak encountered, as well as the way he processed difficult questions on the love of God, suffering, hell, and the interplay between evangelism and social action.
It’s an uncomfortable read, in a challenging way. What do you do with the doctrine of hell when you see a sky burial for someone who has never heard the gospel? Practically, what do you do when you’ve been told not to give food to anyone because it will make the situation worse, but the little girl won’t let go of your hand and is looking at you with hungry eyes pleadingly? And this wasn’t the hardest story to read.
I suppose you can gloss over the stories, read the book and try and disengage. But David Platt tries to get you to see the individuals in the stories, rather than statistics about poverty and people who are unreached with the Gospel. And it worked for me.
So the challenge is not to just drift on without any change – hence the title of the book. But what to change? It will be different for everyone, but the challenge is certainly not to live as comfortably as I was before! Jesus demands that when he says “Love your neighbour.” But Jesus demands more than some change surely? Paul calls himself a “slave of Christ Jesus.”
I would encourage any Christian to read this, and expect to be challenged. It’s not written to make us feel guilty, but rather to exhort us to live lives of love, for God and neighbour, recognising that this life is not all there is!
But there were beautiful experiences as well. And one was meeting with a church family. This was challenging in a different way. [pages 102-105]
“One by one they start to cram in, and cram is the right word. By the time everyone arrives, I count more than fifty people sitting on the floor, on the bed, or on top of each other. They will sit in the most uncomfortable positions with smiles on their faces for the next two hours. They will sing, clap, pray, and listen intently as I share from Scripture.
When I’d prayed earlier about how to encourage this church, I thought about its makeup: men and women who live in a very difficult environment, physically poor, in a battle every day for the most basic needs of food, water, and medicine, and persecuted for their faith.
Before the meeting, the church’s pastor had shared with me that his non-Christian parents died when he was just fifteen. A few years later, someone shared the gospel with him for the first time. He trusted in Jesus and was baptized, but as soon as this happened, the rest of his family abandoned him. His brothers told him to never come back, and he lost the inheritance his parents had left him.
But this pastor and his people believe that Jesus is worth it. “Jesus is worth losing your family,” the pastor told me. Then he quoted Mark 10:29-30, saying,
“Truly I tell you,” Jesus said, “there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for my sake and for the sake of the gospel, who will not receive a hundred times more, now at this time- houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields, with persecutions-and eternal life in the age to come.”
In this setting I hardly know what to say. Who am I to share anything? I wonder. Sure, I have been to seminary, written books, pastored churches, and led ministries, but compared to these brothers and sisters, I know so little of what it costs to follow Christ. Compared to them, I know so little of what it means to depend on and trust in Christ for all that I need. I know so little of what it means to take risks to make his love known.
Nevertheless, trusting that God’s Word is sufficient to encourage them, I open up to Nehemiah 8 and 2 Timothy 4, and I exhort them to hold fast to God’s Word, even when it’s hard to do so. They nod their heads as Nabin translates. I hope they are encouraged.
It’s not until I finish, however, that I am most encouraged. After our time in God’s Word, they begin to share their needs with one another. One older woman in the corner of the room mentions a physical challenge she is facing, and a woman on the other side of the room offers to help take care of her. A young man tells of someone he recently shared the gospel with who is now persecuting him, threatening to harm his family. In response, an older man shares how the same thing happened to him, prompting the pastor to encourage them both based on his own experiences with persecution. That leads to a couple who tell about how they shared the gospel with another family and how that family believed in Jesus. They are now thinking about starting a new church in that family’s home in a nearby village.
As I watch what is happening in this room and listen to these conversations between brothers and sisters in the family of God, it hits me: This is it! This is what these villages and the people in them need most! Absolutely, they need the gospel. Without question, they need to hear the good news of God’s grace that gives them eternal life. But they need more than that, too. They need community-the kind of community that treks for two hours- not just to worship with one another but to care for and encourage one another. The kind of community that takes responsibility for one another’s physical needs. They need brothers and sisters who, as we read in Mark 10, provide for one another as family and love one another as themselves (Luke 10). And these villages need a community of men and women who will take great personal risk to share the greatest news in the world with people who have never heard it.
In other words, these villages and the people in them need the church. The church as God has designed it to be. A people fearlessly holding on to God’s Word while selflessly sacrificing to share and show God’s love amid need around them.
This kind of church can change the world!
It’s surprisingly simple when you think about it. Not easy, but simple. This church has so little of the things you and I think about when it comes to church in our culture. They don’t have a nice building. They don’t have a great band. They don’t have a charismatic preacher. They don’t have any programs. They just have each other, God’s Word in front of them, and God’s Spirit among them. And, apparently, that’s enough.
I wonder if that would be enough for us. I wonder if that would be enough for me. Would you and I be content with belonging to a community that is simply committed to seeking God, loving each other, and sharing the good news of God’s love with the world around us no matter what it costs us? Isn’t this the essence of the church according to God’s design?
As I sit in the middle of this family of brothers and sisters on this remote mountainside, I can’t help but think of how easy it is to get caught up in so much extra stuff in the church that we miss the essence of who God has called us to be and what he has called us to do. I think about what I read in Luke 11 earlier before dinner. There, Jesus confronts the leaders of God’s people because they were missing God’s design for their community. One verse in particular sticks out:
Woe to you Pharisees! You give a tenth of mint, rue, and every kind of herb, and you bypass justice and love for God. These things you should have done without neglecting the others. (verse 42)
Jesus indicts the religious leaders because they were so focused on small things, including their traditions (which weren’t all bad), that they missed the most important things in God’s Word- namely, the spread of God’s love and justice. And I wonder if the same indictment could be made against church leaders like me, and the church culture you and I are a part of Isn’t it so easy for us to focus on small things in the church, including our traditions (which aren’t all bad), that we miss the most important things- namely, working for justice among the oppressed and loving people in need as we love ourselves?”