Drug Wars Driving People to Christ

I love seeing stories like the following because they truly demonstrate Romans 8:28 in a real way. People are coming to know Christ in large numbers because of the violence that stems from the drug wars.

When missionaries and pastors serving in Mexico discuss drug violence, a common theme emerges. People are suffering and dying in terrible ways, they say, but the fear this creates is driving unprecedented numbers of Mexicans – especially teens and twenty-somethings – into the arms of Christ.

“Victory in Jesus, that’s what’s happening in Mexico,” says missionary Mary Stroud. “There has always been violence there, but now what used to be done in darkness is being brought into the light.”

She and her husband, Matthew, served for two years in northern Tamaulipas state – one of the most violent in Mexico, and the stomping grounds of the Zetas, the most brutal and notorious cartel. For security reasons, they asked that their real names not be used, as they are still ministering in Mexico. The Zetas sometimes murder people merely for talking about them.

“The Enemy uses deception through the media to paint a bleak, horrible, hopeless picture of Mexico, which isn’t a true one. There’s a tremendous uprising of youth coming to Jesus. Seeds that were planted year after year are coming to fruition. The time of harvest is now.

“Yes, due to the violence people are losing their lives – that’s real. But God is reigning in Mexico. Victory is here, and it belongs to our Lord Jesus Christ!”

This really does demonstrate Romans 8:28 And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. Satan is busy using the drug violence to try and destroy people’s lives, and God’s goodness and grace is overcoming Satan’s wickedness as people are coming to know Christ and being freed from Satan’s snares. Those who know me know that I always point out that the things God works together for good, are not always good. He is so rich in His mercy that He can take the evil things in our lives and use that to draw us to Himself. This is what is taking place in Mexico.

Those who are coming to know Him in Mexico because of the drug wars are finding true and lasting hope in Christ. That is something that they have never had before knowing Christ. It is sad that often times we must go through terrible storms before we realize there is something missing in our lives. But I imagine the youth who are trusting in Christ are grateful the Lord used all that to bring them to Himself. They see that the things of this world are fleeting and worthless. Let’s hope and pray that the LORD shows His grace and mercy to the youth of the United States as well.

Mount Taal

In April 2000, I went on a short-term mission trip to the Philippines. It was one of those missions trips that confirmed to me that I was called to ministry in the local church, not on the foreign mission field, even though I have a heart for those who go and I would like to go on some more short-term trips.

While there, I had the opportunity to climb Mount Taal, which is a semi-active volcano. What is neat about the volcano is that there is a lake inside the volcano, with an island inside the lake, with a lake inside that island, and finally, a dome inside that lake where the latest in seismographic equipment sits.

We took a boat across the first lake, and climbed up the first island, and looked down on the second lake and the second island. I was grateful for the seismographic equipment, because it was able to tell us if there was about to be an eruption. Not that we could have done anything about it at that point, but at least we would have known we were about to be blown to bits.

The interesting thing about the small island is that there is a fishing village there and a tourist industry. The tourist industry thrives on renting out donkeys for people who want to go to the top of the mountain, without walking. It also thrives on bottled water for those of us who climb without the aid of a donkey and are thirsty. I thought it was ingenious of them. They get your money one way or another.

It was also fun to cross the lake in their boats, which are larger canoes with engines. I guess the Filipinos got tired of paddling the boats. It’s what I would have done. It took us about 40 minutes to cross the lake, which gave me an idea of how big it was.

All this to say that I have climbed a volcano once in my life. I’m fascinated by them, but this is about as close as I want to get to one. Especially one that is belching a carbon footprint the size of South America like Volcano Chaiten.

The Reasons for Missions

My Sunday sermon…

One of the obvious facts about taking a short-term mission trip is that in the United States, we live very blessed lives. So much so, that even our poor, tend to have more than those of middle class stature in other countries. Not always, but in general.

This reality became extremely real for me when I took a month-long trip to the Philippines in April of 2000. I was to spend four weeks helping MTW by teaching and sharing with the local church. I was also getting a chance to be exposed to not only the churches sponsored by MTW, but the other ministries as well, from the Presbyterian seminary, to helping with the area pastors.

But the most difficult ministry I was exposed to was the Ang Bahay Parola, or the Lighthouse. The goal of the ministry was to reach the street children of Manila. To some, this may seem an impossible task since there are so many, and more coming from the countryside every day.

In the Philippines, those who live in the underdeveloped areas, will move to Manila in the hopes of finding work. Most of the time, that is not possible, so they move into squatters villages.

Squatters villages are in and of themselves something to behold. When Renae, Buboy and Rubin took me to a squatter village just a short distance from the Lighthouse, I felt like I was truly entering into another world.

When we first arrived, there was a basketball goal set up and a lot of the boys and teenagers were playing in pick up games. Most of them don’t go to school since they can’t afford it, and this in turn, leads to the reality that they cannot get jobs. So the cycle of living in a squatters village remains. It’s a difficult cycle to break. But it is a cycle that Buboy and the rest of those with the Lighthouse are trying to break.

The three of them introduced me to some of the children as they held Bible studies in the empty lot across the street from their squatters village.

They were so very sweet and so very poor. One beautiful little girl looked up at me and smiled. It was then that I noticed both her front teeth had rotted away.

Another child walked on his ankles because he fell out of building when he was an infant. The family had no money to have his broken legs set, so he makes do. On top of that, his family finally abandoned him, and he lives wherever he can find a place to.

Some of the squatters help him out. As Renae led the children in a Bible study, the child sat down next to me, and took my hand. He just wanted to have someone hold his hand. I ignored the filth on his hand, and held it. It was all I could do to keep myself together.

Most of the children wore dirty clothes because they had only one pair, and washing that one set of clothes was difficult. There seemed to be so many children, so many needs.

How do you deal with such insurmountable odds? How do we help such people?

There really is only one way to begin helping, and that is with the gospel of Christ. Only the gospel can take a nation and change it so that the poor are truly helped. Only the gospel can convert souls, so they see their need to depend upon Christ and allow Him to raise them up. Only the gospel addressed the needs of the poor in a true and real way.

So how do we help?

We help by helping Buboy and the Lighthouse ministry. While there is not much we can do from here, we can support them with our prayers and the money we have.

Buboy and the rest of those trying to break the cycle, need our support. When we support missionaries and MTW, we are helping in making a difference. We are being obedient to Christ. Remember, this is the same ministry that the WIC is raising money in order to support. Remember the fliers last week? That flyer told you about the ministry I have just described.

As we look at the Great Commission given to us by Christ, we see a very simple reality, we can either Go ourselves, send other, or sin by doing nothing at all because the One who gives us the command, is doing so from a position of authority. As we look at this passage, we need to think about ways that we can aid the missionaries we support.

Matthew 28:18-20 And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19 Go therefore, and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen.

First point: All authority has been given to Christ. He is on the throne of authority, and is Sovereign over all things.

When Jesus is giving the disciples this command, it is after the resurrection, and they are witnessing His entrance into the Kingdom. They don’t fully understand that yet, but the point is being made. His Kingdom is being inaugurated.

Matthew 16:28 “Assuredly, I say to you, there are some standing here who shall not taste death till they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom.”

Matthew 26:64 Jesus said to him, “It is as you said. Nevertheless, I say to you, hereafter you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Power, and coming on the clouds of heaven.”

Daniel 7:13-14 “ I was watching in the night visions,
And behold, One like the Son of Man,
Coming with the clouds of heaven!
He came to the Ancient of Days,
And they brought Him near before Him.
14 Then to Him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom,
That all peoples, nations, and languages should serve Him.
His dominion is an everlasting dominion,
Which shall not pass away,
And His kingdom the one
Which shall not be destroyed.

The point is that this moment has arrived. The Son is about to ascend to His Kingdom and all authority has been given to Him.

During His earthly ministry, He demonstrated His power over disease, death, blindness, the wind and the waves, leprosy, and even the ability to call 12 legions of angels. This was demonstrating His power for us, but since He was still in His humiliation, not all power was given to Him.

After the resurrection, that changed. While He had yet ascended to the throne, the power was already His. We can equate it to a man being elected to the presidency. He has all honor conferred upon Him, but the power of that position doesn’t arrive until inauguration day.

Only here, the power has arrived. He has just yet to seat Himself on the thrown.

Now why is this all important? Jesus tells us of His authority so that we will listen to His words. We need to know that moment by moment, day by day, we can lean on Him in the work of the Kingdom.[1] We need to know that the Heir of all things is concerned with our daily struggles and our work for the Kingdom. We need to know that He is sovereign over our affairs and hears our prayers. We need to know that He is working all things together for good, for those that love Him.

In order to convey that, He tells us of His authority.

Notice, this is not some a frivolous authority, but one of great depth and power. Most authority passes away, but not the authority of Christ. Listen to Daniel’s words again: His dominion is an everlasting dominion, Which shall not pass away, And His kingdom the one Which shall not be destroyed.

He does have ALL authority. His authority is more real than anything we face on this side of glory, but it is not authority just in heaven. His authority is both in heaven and on earth. So to think His authority is limited to just heaven is wrong. His authority encompasses every thing.

Listen to one commentators words:

Christ is He who has the keys of death and hell; Christ is the anointed Priest, who alone can absolve sinners; Christ is the Fountain of living waters, in whom alone we can be cleansed; Christ is the Prince and Savior, who along can give repentance and remission of sins. In Him all fullness dwells. He is the way, the door, the light, the life, the Shepherd, the Altar of Refuge…”[2]

This is real authority because it is authority that has everlasting implications and how we approach the command He is about to give us says a lot about how we understand this.

What command?

Go! We are to go! This is the second point. Our High King commands us to Go!

This isn’t something that is an option. We are all to Go! Or as the original says, “having gone… make disciples…” The assumption is that you are going…

And, do what?

Make disciples. The emphasis is on making disciples, those who are learners and followers of Jesus Christ. He is not telling us to “make converts.” While that is implied, He is not telling us to do that. We cannot make converts.

But we can make disciples. This places more of an emphasis on the mind, as well as the heart and the will, which all must be won for God.[3]

We are to be those “who proclaim the true and the will of God to the world. It is necessary that sinners learn about their own lost condition, God, His plan of redemption, His love, His law, etc.”[4]

But this is not all. This isn’t simply knowledge, but something that must be learned and practiced. It is learning the truth, living it out and abiding in it. Only then, are we Christ’s disciples.

Then Jesus said to them again, “I am going away, and you will seek Me, and will die in your sin. Where I go you cannot come.”
22 So the Jews said, “Will He kill Himself, because He says, ‘Where I go you cannot come’?”
23 And He said to them, “You are from beneath; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world. 24 Therefore I said to you that you will die in your sins; for if you do not believe that I am He, you will die in your sins.”
25 Then they said to Him, “Who are You?”
And Jesus said to them, “Just what I have been saying to you from the beginning. 26 I have many things to say and to judge concerning you, but He who sent Me is true; and I speak to the world those things which I heard from Him.”
27 They did not understand that He spoke to them of the Father.
28 Then Jesus said to them, “When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am He, and that I do nothing of Myself; but as My Father taught Me, I speak these things. 29 And He who sent Me is with Me. The Father has not left Me alone, for I always do those things that please Him.” 30 As He spoke these words, many believed in Him.

Then Jesus said to those Jews who believed Him, “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. 32 And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”

Those who abide in His word, are His disciples. Not just abide in the church, but in His word and in Him, as He will later say.

How do we make disciples?

By baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Baptized them in the name of the Trinitarian God and teaching them.

The two, baptizing and teaching, go together. You do not do one without the other. In order to baptize someone, we must teach them, and once they are baptized, we must continue to teach them. The teaching is not something that stops simply because we have been baptized, but continues the rest of our lives.

For instance, you need to know that when you were baptized, you were done so into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Here the word used for “name” is singular, showing us that God is truly One, and not many. He is One God, but three persons, or Godheads. We don’t worship many gods as the pagans do, but only One God.

It just so happens that He is triune in nature. This means that each person of the Trinity is fully God, but also fully that person, whether it be the Father, Son or Holy Spirit. This is how God has revealed Himself to us. While it is difficult for us to fully understand this, we must admit that fully understanding God and who He is, is out of our capacity.

This is the name that we baptize disciples into. Baptism is a sacrament that replaces the circumcision of the Old Testament. Baptism is the sign and seal of the righteousness of Christ imputed to us by faith.

When an adult is baptized, we are merely seeing the sign that represents the reality of the inward change that has already occurred as a result of the gospel. Baptism doesn’t bring a person into communion with Christ, but does represent that communion that exists if true faith is already there.

As for our infants, we see our children as part of the Kingdom because this is how Christ views them as well. In Mathew 19:13-15, He rebukes the disciples for keeping the children from Him.

Then little children were brought to Him that He might put His hands on them and pray, but the disciples rebuked them. 14 But Jesus said, “Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of heaven.” 15 And He laid His hands on them and departed from there.

We see that Jesus doesn’t view these children as “little pagans,” but as part of the Kingdom. They were brought to Him by faith. Not their own, but the faith of their parents. So it is in faith that we baptize our children, raising them as members of the Kingdom, and trusting in the Holy Spirit to make their baptisms effectual at a later date.

All this understand comes about by teaching. We are to teach the disciples or followers of Christ.

Teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you.

Teaching both precedes and follows baptism. I loved some of the practices of the early church. Because of persecution, they took someone’s desire to join much more seriously than we do, and insisted that those desiring to join the church know basic knowledge of Christianity, things like the meaning of true repentance and a demonstration of it, the basics of who Christ is, and what He did.

As one theologian writes, “the early church was interested in edification as well as evangelism, in sanctification as well as conversion, in church government as well as preaching.”[5]

Now days it seems like many churches just want you to sign on the dotted line for you to become a member. No questions about knowledge, or faith experience. I think that has led to a weaker church.

Disciples of Christ should be able to talk about the basics of their faith. That is why the catechism are so helpful. We can catechize our children with the Shorter Catechism and if they learn all 107 questions, they will probably know more theology, more about the gospel, more about God and themselves, than your average MA grad from your typical evangelical seminary.

The point is that we are to teach and continue to teach until Christ returns. This is what makes us disciples and is the mark of a disciple. We never get to a point where we no longer have to learn.

Finally, Christ leaves us with an encouragement with this command: and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.

Need the reminder. Tend to forget… When we are faced with difficult situations like thousands of children who go without education, or food, or lasting homes, we need to be reminded of this.

Jesus has given us a grand command. He has given us a task that is far beyond anything we can accomplish in our own strength. 2 Corinthians 2:16 And who is sufficient for these things? So we need this reminder that if the Kingdom is going to be built through those who are lowly in status, as the Kingdom is built, then we must rely on Christ working in us and through us to accomplish the task. We need to remember, He has not left us alone in this command.

Therefore, we need to hear the basic tenant of this command: Go, send, or sin. What will we do?

And when we do go, how will we respond when the child that walks on his ankles, sits down next to you, and takes your hand. You don’t pull away. You will remember, that Christ is with us, and you share the truth and the glory of Christ with Him, give Him true, meaningful and lasting hope, and he becomes your brother.

Matthew 28:18-20

All authority has been given to (Jesus Christ) in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that (Christ has) commanded you; and lo, (Christ is) with you always, even to the end of the age. Amen.

[1] William Hendriksen, NTC: Matthew, Baker Book House, p. 998.

[2] J.C. Ryle, Expository Thoughts on Matthew, Banner of Truth Trust, p. 409.

[3] Hendriksen, p. 999.

[4] Ibid.

[5] G.W. Knight, III, quoted by Hendriksen, in his commentary in the footnotes on page 1001.