Loving the Mission Fields of the World

Steve Viars January 24, 2016 Acts 15:

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The mission of Faith Church is to glorify God by winning people to Jesus Christ and equipping them to be more faithful disciples.

Strengthening Others – We believe that God is pleased as we seek to strengthen other pastors, missionaries, and key leaders.

Matthew 28:19-20 - Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.

Acts 1:7-8 - He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or epochs which the Father has fixed by His own authority; but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.”

3 principles to guide the way we do mission work today

I. God Wants His People to Love the Nations

A. A central theme throughout the Word of God

Matthew 28:19 - Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations

Acts 1:8 - …you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth

Acts 15:8-9 - And God, who knows the heart, testified to them giving them the Holy Spirit, just as He also did to us; and He made no distinction between us and them, cleansing their hearts by faith.

Acts 15:17-18 - So that the rest of mankind may seek the LORD, and all the Gentiles who are called by my name says the Lord, who makes these things known from long ago.

B. This principle has guided evangelical churches for generations

C. It is a delightful privilege when people from different nations serve the Lord together

II. Often Trial and Suffering Becomes an Occasion when the Love of Christ can be Especially and Practically Shared

A. God in His sovereignty allowed the early church in Jerusalem to suffer significant poverty

Romans 15:24-28 - …whenever I go to Spain—for I hope to see you in passing, and to be helped on my way there by you, when I have first enjoyed your company for a while—but now, I am going to Jerusalem serving the saints. For Macedonia and Achaia have been pleased to make a contribution for the poor among the saints in Jerusalem. Yes, they were pleased to do so, and they are indebted to them. For if the Gentiles have shared in their spiritual things, they are indebted to minister to them also in material things. Therefore, when I have finished this, and have put my seal on this fruit of theirs, I will go on by way of you to Spain.

B. Poverty and suffering were used to draw the nations together in Christ’s church

III. Christians Caring for the Poor and those of Various Ethnicities Can Be and Is a Powerful Testimony to the Beauty of the Gospel

Ephesians 2:8-16 - For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them. Therefore remember that formerly you, the Gentiles in the flesh, who are called “Uncircumcision” by the so-called “Circumcision,” which is performed in the flesh by human hands— remember that you were at that time separate from Christ, excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall, by abolishing in His flesh the enmity, which is the Law of commandments contained in ordinances, so that in Himself He might make the two into one new man, thus establishing peace, and might reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross, by it having put to death the enmity. 

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As you know, our church's mission statement is to glorify God. We were just singing about that, weren't we? Yeah, what a great song that is. It's our mission to glorify God by winning people to Jesus Christ and then equipping them to be more faithful disciples. That means that there are all sorts of things that we just don’t do, activities that we don’t involve ourselves in because they're not consistent with our mission. They may not be inherently bad, that’s not the point. They're just not tethered tightly enough to what we believe God has called us to do here according to his word.

On the other hand, there are all sorts of other activities that we pursue passionately because we see those things as at the very heart of our mission, so we try to be mission-driven around here. We try to be mission-focused. We talk a lot about that, and I think that we should. Along with our mission, our church family has adopted 5 core values, the fifth one being strengthening others. We believe that God is pleased as we seek to strengthen other pastors and other missionaries and other key leaders, and I'm glad. I'm really glad our church family believes that. That mentality preceded me, for sure. I'm glad that it did.

What that means is we understand that our first priority is to provide spiritual oversight and care for those that the Lord has brought into this church, but we believe that God's mission is much longer than us, much larger than us. We also believe that God has blessed us, hasn’t he, with an unusual amount of resources, people and gifts and experiences and teaching and opportunities and finances. As much of that as we can share with others, the more our God will be glorified here and around the world. Is that right? Our first priority is to meet the needs of every person who is part of this church, but because we have so much, the more of that we can share with others, the better. Are we all on board with that thus far? Can I get a little "Mm-hmm, absolutely" for that? Okay, good. Good.

For example, Pastor Green and I have been in Orlando the last couple of days because of this core value. A church there that’s part of the Harvest Bible Chapel network down there organized a conference in Biblical counseling and discipleship for the people in that part of the country, and they asked the staff from Faith to provide the training for them. That’s in the sweet spot of our ministry. I have a quick trip to Jacksonville scheduled this week. I can't help it that it's all Florida and Caribbean countries, but that’s just the way it worked out. I have to run down there to participate in the Pastors Conference at First Baptist in Jacksonville. We've always done those kinds of things as a church because it's at the very heart of what we believe the Lord has called us to do.

That’s why a couple of weeks ago, Dan Wickert, who's on the far left of this picture … If you don’t know him, he's a physician from our church. He's also volunteered in our counseling center for many years now. … along with Newton Pena. Newton is the fourth person from the left in that picture, who is one of our third-year seminary students who along with his wife, Yadir, and their son, Josue, are from the Dominican Republic.

We traveled down to the DR for our fourth training conference there just a couple of weeks ago. It was really a privilege to serve with Dan and Newton, and I'm happy to tell you that their ministry was just so well-received by the over 700 persons from around the country of Dominican Republic who came to that conference. Other than what looked like a few Mr. Grumpy Pants moments … I've never had that look on my face. It had to be Photoshopped in. Other than that, we had a great time. We had a great time ministering the word of God.

We did, by the way, when we got to the DR had a rather stark introduction to the culture the first morning. Dr. Wickert had never been to the DR before. On that first day, we met up with a gentleman on your left. That is Yadir Pena's brother-in-law, Moses, who is a surgeon. Then the young man on the right was a medical school student from New York City who just happened to be down in the DR for a 2-month surgery internship in a hospital there. He had just worked the night before. Of course, we got into a conversation about what it was like to be a general surgeon in the DR, et cetera. He said, "Well, it's pretty lively, pretty lively because people fight with machetes there," he said. He said, "It kept it pretty busy."

He starts telling us about a case he had had the night before, and he kept using the feminine pronoun to describe the case, "she," "she," she." Finally, we asked, "Are you talking about the 2 females who were in a fight with machetes?" He said something like, "Oh, yeah, even the ladies take their fighting here very seriously." Welcome to another country. Anytime, we had a great time serving there, for sure.

Then Dan traveled back to the U.S., and then Newton and Pastor Oscar Arocha, who is the senior pastor of the host church there in the DR, and I left Sunday afternoon after church to travel to Cuba. This was the scene outside our so-called hotel room when we woke up Monday morning. It's not like I had to find a bad picture. I could have walked anywhere around the hotel where I woke up that morning and that’s exactly what I saw. That’s Havana. To say that communism has destroyed Cuba would be an understatement. I've been to a number of poor places in the world, but what struck me about this country was how poverty is so widespread. Then when you couple this with the fact that the government owns where you live, the government for the most part tells you where you're going to work, to say that it is a hopeless place in many ways is just an understatement, for sure.

However, in the providence of God, there are a number of churches there. In fact, hundreds of churches were there. The man on your left, as I mentioned, is Pastor Arocha, and just to keep this story straight, that’s Newton's pastor from the Dominican Republic. The man on your right figures prominently into the story. His name is Leslie. His grandfather and his grandmother were used of the Lord to proclaim the gospel in Cuba and to establish a seminary that’s about 5 hours away from where this picture was taken. Leslie's grandparents suffered greatly under communism. Their seminary property was confiscated twice by the government. Leslie's grandfather was imprisoned because of his faith, but by God's grace, they're involved now in that seminary.

It's interesting. Leslie's father is also a pastor, Leslie's father, who had to be out of the country when we were there. Leslie pastored that church that’s signified by the orange sign, the brightest sign on that road, for sure, just kind of a ray of hope on that road, for sure. While they wouldn’t say that there was complete religious freedom there, what we learned is you can have a church as long as … They said it this way, "as long as you're careful about it." As long as you're careful about it. By God's grace, they now, Leslie's father and Leslie, the man on the right, are involved in the same seminary that the grandmother and the grandfather kept alive under communism, and Pastor Arocha from the Dominican Republic has been going and just trying to help them.

Now, Lord willing, Leslie, the man, again, on the right, and his father and their wives have accepted an invitation to be with us at our Biblical Counseling Training Conference in just a couple of weeks. If everything works out, Leslie's father will actually be one of the speakers in our worship services 2 weeks from today on February 7 along with Luis Mendez, who is from the Dominican Republic and now serves on the staff at Bethlehem Baptist up in Minneapolis, and Kike Torres, one of my friends from Mexico.

Then we that morning left and traveled the 5 hours to the seminary property, and we taught a group of 70 pastors who came in from around the country. It was a marvelous experience, a marvelous experience, for sure. To try to put some of the lessons in context, I want to invite you to open your Bible now to Acts Chapter 15, Acts Chapter 15. That’s on page 105, the back section of the Bible under the chair in front of you. Acts Chapter 15 or page 105 of the back section of the Bible under the chair in front of you. You know that our church's theme this year is loving our world. Don’t you love that theme? Loving our world. This morning, we're going to be focusing on loving the mission fields of the world.

Whenever I have the privilege to represent us on a trip like that, I'm trying to accomplish 3 goals. One is just to honor the Lord by faithfully teaching the word. This is a picture of the 70-plus pastors who came for this training. These are men and women in Cuba who have been cut off from the kind of resources that you and I take for granted. It's been a closed country since 1959. The average salary of the pastors in that picture … You want to guess how much? $20.00. That’s what they earn, $20.00 a month. It's very difficult to have books, as you can imagine. For one thing, there's not many books available, and for those that are in Spanish, it would be practically impossible for the people that you see in that picture to be able to afford a book.

A computer is a luxury that few could afford. None of the people in that picture came to the conference by car, because none of them own a car. The government's cut them off from the outside world. They just recently received limited access to the Internet, if you want to call it … That’s a whole 'nother story in and of itself. Even for the limited access, it's just so terribly expensive that most people could not afford it. You can just imagine the hunger that they would have for sound teaching from the word of God.

In fact, they told us, "We almost became a cult." They're actually a group of 400 churches that we were working with, and they said, "We almost became a cult because all we had was our Bible, but we didn’t have any resources to know how to interpret the Bible," so there are all these fanciful interpretations going around. My point is, they're just longing for sound teaching from the word. Just say, "Well, why did we go there?" That’s one of the reasons is just to try to provide on your behalf teaching from the word of God.

The second goal that we would always have when we go to a place like that is to try to identify leaders. We're asking the question, "Well, who could we effectively work with in the future?" For example, who might we be able to bring to our Biblical Counseling Training Conference in February and to try to provide training that they could take back into their own culture, or who could we invite to participate in our master of arts in Biblical counseling degree online for anyone that might have access to a computer and the Internet?

Even to ask the question, "Is there anyone in that country who along with his wife would like to come to Lafayette for 3 years to be part of our master of divinity program, to actually join our staff as one of our interns, so you could light the fire under them just like you have for so many others who have been part of that program?" We're looking for leaders. Who can we effectively partner with in the coming days?

Here's one example. The woman with the dark complexion in this picture, she's named Tina. She's worked at this particular seminary where we taught for 30 years, starting as the seminary's cook. She's been a great steward over the years and she worked her way up to being the seminary's Hebrew professor. That’s what she does now. She is their Hebrew professor. Imagine doing that with very few books. Again, you're frozen in time. You don't have access to the kind of resources that you and I take for granted every day. Imagine learning Hebrew and then teaching Hebrew and Old Testament with very few resources.

When I spoke with her about the possibility of having her own computer with high-powered Bible study software in Spanish that would allow her to study the scripture in the original languages, along with hundreds of Bible study reference books and other resource tools right there on her computer, I wish right then I had taken a picture of the look on her face. She looked at me like I had just come from Mars. To say that that would be a dream come true doesn’t even begin to explain the kind of blessing that that could be to this dear sister in Christ named Tina.

The third goal is, again, on our behalf, looking for needs that we might be able to meet. The Cuban Christians are very unassuming. They did not ask us for anything, did not ask us for anything other than friendship and partnership. That’s what they asked from us, but I say you can't be in these kind of conditions for long before you start to quietly ask questions. One man softly told me this. He said, "You know, it's hard to tell your children that we just don’t have any food today." He said, "If you really want to know what it's like to live here, that’s hard." Several remarked in private conversations, they said … I don’t know exactly how to say it, just say it. They said, "You know, it would be really nice if my family had underclothes. That would be nice. If we had shoes, glasses that actually had the correct prescription." Just the kind of things that you and I take … How many pair of shoes did you have to pick from this morning?

Now we can't legally or economically gather up a lot of things and just ship them there. It doesn’t work that way, okay? The Castros are still alive. It doesn’t work that way. I'm going to try to rein in my snark about them, but, well, anyway. We do have 4 persons coming from Cuba here in just a few weeks who can legally take back 2 large suitcases each and a briefcase each, along with their own carry-on. We're going to have an opportunity to bless them, and I'll talk to you about that a little bit more in a few minutes.

Now the Book of Acts, Acts Chapter 15. This is all about missions. This is all about what Jesus loving the world actually looks like. It's one thing to say, "Well, we love the world." It's something else, practically, what does that look like? The Book of Acts tells us what Jesus loving the world looks like. Whenever we think about mission, we shouldn’t be too far away mentally from the great commission that Jesus gave his disciples encapsulated in passages like this, "Go there and make disciples of all the nations," Matthew 28:19-20, "baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe."

There's the key thing. Not just teaching them facts, teaching them to "observe all that I commanded you and lo, I am with you always even to the end of the age," or Acts Chapter 1, Verses 7 and 8, he spoke to them. This is after the resurrection, "It's not for you to know the times or the epochs which the Father has fixed by his own authority, but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit is come upon you." By the way, that’s already happened, right? What's going to happen then? "You shall be my witnesses both in Jerusalem and in Judea and Samaria and even to the remotest part of the earth." 

Here's what that means, friends. It would be impossible for a follower of Jesus Christ to truly love the world without caring deeply about the concepts contained in passages like those. How many times would I have to say that before we were absolutely sure that every last one of us got that down deeply in our hearts, because if we're going to talk this year about loving our world, then I honestly believe it would be impossible for a follower of Jesus Christ to truly love the world without caring deeply about the concepts that are contained in passages just like those.

Now the Book of Acts explains how this commission was initially carried out by followers of Christ. By the time we get to Acts 15, of course, the church has been born. That happened in Acts Chapter 2, and significant growth has occurred, amazing growth, and opposition has begun. The apostle Peter has been used to proclaim the gospel to the Gentiles, to the non-Jews. That’s a very important point contextually. The great persecutor of the church by now, Saul of Tarsus, has been won to Christ and is now who? He's now the apostle Paul, who's gone with his coworker, Barnabas, on the first missionary journey.

Let's just pick up the story there. I'm going to Acts 15, beginning in Verse 1, "Some men came down from Judea and began teaching the brethren, 'Unless you're circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you can't be saved.'" That’s a problem. That’s a problem. "When Paul and Barnabas had great dissension and debate with them, the brethren determined that Paul and Barnabas and some others should go up to Jerusalem, to the apostles and elders concerning this issue.

"Therefore being sent on their way by the church, they were passing through both Phoenicia and Samaria, describing in detail …" Remember where they were supposed to go. Acts 1:8, "… describing in detail the conversion of the Gentiles and were bringing great joy to all the brethren. When they arrived at Jerusalem, they were received by the church and the apostles and the elders, and they reported all that God had done with them, but some of the sect of the Pharisees who had believed stood up, saying, 'It's necessary to circumcise them and to direct them to observe the law of Moses.' The apostles and the elders came together to look into this matter." We call this, by the way, the Jerusalem Council.

"After there had been much debate, Peter stood up and said to the brethren, 'You know that in the early days, God made a choice among you that by my mouth, the Gentiles would hear the word of the gospel and believe in God, who knows the heart, testify to them, giving them the Holy Spirit, just as he did to us, and,'" here's some great news, "'he made no distinction between us and them.'" See, it doesn’t matter if you're from the U.S. or from the Dominican or from Cuba, wherever. "And he made no distinction between us and them, cleansing their hearts by faith and now therefore why do you put God to the test by placing upon the neck of the disciples a yoke which neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear. We believe we're saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ in the same ways as they also are. 

"Now all the people kept silent and they were listening to Barnabas and Paul as they were relating what signs and wonders God had done through them among the Gentiles. After they stopped speaking, James, the pastor, answered saying, 'Brethren, listen to me. Simeon has related how God first concerned himself about taking from among the Gentiles a people for his name.' With this, the words of the prophets agree and just as it is written, 'After these things I will return and I will rebuild the tabernacle of David which has fallen and I will rebuild its ruins.

'I will restore it so that the rest of mankind may seek the Lord, and all the Gentiles who are called by my name, says the Lord, who makes these things known from long ago. Therefore, it is my judgment that we don’t trouble those who are turning to God from among the Gentiles but that we write to them that they abstain from things contaminated by idols and from fornication and from what is strangled from blood. For Moses from ancient generations, has in every city those who preach him since he is read in the synagogues every Sabbath.'"

We're talking this morning about loving the mission fields of the world. With the time we have remaining, let's look for 3 principles to guide the way we do mission work today. If it's true that if we're truly going to love our world, then the great commission has to be a deep passion to every last one of us. Then we ought to study the word of God to know how to do that well, huh? Three principles to guide the way we do mission work today, first of all, God wants his people to love the nations.

I. God Wants His People to Love the Nations

Would you agree with that? God wants us, he wants his people to love the nations. That’s a central theme throughout the word of God. In fact, just think about some of the passages that we've already reviewed but through that particular lens, "Go there and make disciples of all the nations."

Think about your world map right now in your mind of all of the nations, what we saw in Acts 1:8, "You're going to be my witnesses in Jerusalem," okay, got that, "and in Judea," okay, "and in Samaria." "What? Even to the Samaritan? God loves them?" Yeah. "I have to love them?" Yeah, the Samaritans. Even the remotest part of the earth, or what we saw in this telling of the Jerusalem Council, "And God who knows the heart testified to them, giving them the Gentiles, the Holy Spirit just as he did to us. He made no distinction between us and them," or later in that same text, "so that the rest of mankind may seek the Lord and all the Gentiles, all of them who are called by my name, says the Lord, who makes these things known from long ago."

Aren't you glad, by the way, verses like that are in the Bible? Aren't you glad our God loves the nations, and aren't you glad that he gives us the power to do exactly the same thing? I also want to say this this morning, that that same principle has guided evangelical churches for generations, so it's not like that’s a new thing. We're an evangelical church. That’s the way we would be known in our culture.

You might say, "Well, what's that even mean?" Evangelical literally means herald, that’s what an evangel is, or proclaim. In shorthand, that phrase described churches generally speaking that, one, believe that the Bible is the word of God. Without apology, we are a Bible-believing church. Evangelical churches, as opposed to liberal churches, evangelical churches believe that the Bible is the word of God. Secondly, evangelical churches believe that the Lord has given us the privilege to live and proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ here and around the world.

Now our church is not perfect. We've not been perfect historically. We can certainly do more to be as ethnically diverse as we possibly can, but, on the other hand, historically we have put our money where our mouths are for a long time. What I mean by that is sending missionaries at great sacrifice and great expense literally around the globe to hear about Jesus Christ. Evangelical churches for generations have loved the nations. You might say, "Why are you wound up about that right now?" You may have caught this editorial this week when Donald Trump goes to Liberty University. You say, "I got to hear about this on Sunday, too?" I'm not here to defend either. I'm not here to defend the Donald. I'm not here to defend Liberty. That’s not my role.

If you happened to read that article, if you get down to the twelfth paragraph, here's what actually caught my attention. It was a couple of paragraphs by this writer that suggested that the reason the Christian school movement was started was to create, and I quote, "segregation academies." This author says that the reason churches have Christian schools is to protect white students from being involved with minority students after the Brown versus the Board of Education mandate to desegregate schools. That is a complete liberal fantasy. Some people think that because they think it or because they say it, that must make it true.

Another reason I'm talking about this is I had a former member of this church say that to me once, and I thought, "Where in the world did you get that drivel?" Here's some of the sources. That is a complete liberal fantasy. The Christian education movement started in response to the 1963 Supreme Court ruling that found prayer and Bible reading in public schools to be unconstitutional. Now mark this down because if you're going to say it, at least say it right, be accurate historically. Those same schools that were started by people who were already going to great lengths to love people of different nationalities around the world, they were already building hospitals, they were already starting schools, they were already feeding the poor, they were already starting churches. I'm not saying that any of that was done perfectly, but we have a deep and a rich heritage of loving the world.

One of my favorite pictures of Doc Smith and Pastor Goode, this picture was taken a long time ago. It was one of their first mission trips to Haiti. Here's a man and his wife who grew up in the deep South, Pastor and Mrs. Goode, sacrificing their time to go to a country like Haiti. There is a powerful message there for anybody who wants to listen. We would also say this, it's a delightful privilege when people from different nations actually … You say, "Well, what does Acts 15 look like today?" It's a great privilege when people from different nations serve the Lord together.

This is one of my favorite pictures from that trip, and let me explain why. That’s the Cuban flag behind us. We had stopped at a restaurant, if you want to call it that, for lunch. We were back from the seminary. We were done teaching and heading back to Havana. The woman in this picture is Leslie's grandmother, whom I mentioned earlier, along with her husband who is now deceased, was instrumental in keeping the seminary that serves 400 pastors and churches alive under communism. She's a champion. She's an absolute champion for Christ, for sure. That woman and those that she's working with have been crying out for anyone who would come and help them.

Pastor Arocha, who is directly next to her, again, the senior pastor from the church in Santiago, Dominican Republic, answered that call several years ago. He, and their church has a small one-year seminary, they’ve been going and trying to help Cuba. By the way, for those who are long-time members of this church, it is uncanny how much he reminds me of Pastor Goode. The more I worked with him, it was unbelievable how much he is like Pastor Goode. He also has an incredibly compassionate heart, just like Pastor Goode had. It would not be unusual for him to start weeping as he would think about the condition of the people in that poor, poor country.

Ever since I've been going to his church … I've been going to the DR now for 4 years. … he's been talking with me about Faith and our seminary partnering with him and their seminary to go to Cuba together. He's been chewing on me about that now for 4 years, and finally we made that happen. What I'm saying is look at that picture. At the core, you have an American and a Cuban and a Dominican linking arms to serve a nation in need. That’s what the passages that we have before us are talking about.

By the way, next to Pastor Arocha, you say, "Who's wearing that Cuban hat?" That’s actually our waiter. I just wanted to point him out because it was incredible how open that Cuban man was to the gospel. Now Newton could tell this part of the story better than me because his Spanish is a little bit better than mine, but Newton and that man were having a marvelous … The guy just kept lingering around our table, ignoring many of the other people in the restaurant. One of the questions that that man asked Newton was, "Can the gospel really change a person's life?" You can imagine if you're in a closed country and you have an opportunity to hear the gospel like that, you can imagine those kinds of questions.

Think about the picture some more. There's Newton from Pastor Arocha's church, been in our seminary the last 3 years. Newton and his wife Yadir's passion is to take these principles of Biblical growth and change to the Latin American world. I'm happy to tell you that a decision was finalized on this trip that the best place for Newton and Yadir to accomplish this task in collaboration with our friends in the DR is to stay here for an extended period of time and to use this as a launching pad to serve other Latin American countries. That also allows us to continue to enhance our Hispanic ministries at Faith, which is a key part of our strategy on the north end. What I'm saying is I'm thankful for a church family that wants these principles of being ethnically diverse to take greater and greater fruit among us.

Then there's Leslie, who is on my right in that picture, your left, this young Cuban pastor who with his wife and parents will be here in a couple of weeks. The question is, "Well, what does multiethnic ministry look like? What does action of faith look like in this day and age?" That’s what it looks like, individuals, men and women from other cultures, other countries, working together to love people and proclaim the good news of Christ. That’s what it looks like. Aren't you glad to know and to serve a God who loves the nations? Aren't you glad to be part of a church family that wants to do that in real time in this day and age?

In 28 years, I've never heard a member of our church make a racist comment. I've never heard that. There's never been the least opposition to initiatives like making the Living Nativity CDs available in Spanish and now in Mandarin. In other words, to do whatever is necessary to minister the word to the nations. At our Biblical Counseling Training Conference in just a couple of weeks, there will be hundreds of people here from other nations. Do you realize that? I had a bunch of people in the DR say, "Hey, we're going to be up in Lafayette in a couple of weeks," to which I said to every one of them, "Do you have a coat? Do you have any idea what that sentence you made just really means to your future?"

There's literally hundreds of persons from other nations who will be here in just a couple of weeks, and here's what I know. I know this, they will be graciously served and housed and loved, and we consider it a privilege to do so. In fact, by God's grace, for the first time ever, 2 of the tracks of our training conference will be taught in Spanish. Not interpreted into Spanish, taught by Hispanic speakers in Spanish directly to Spanish-speaking people. See, God wants his church to love the nations, and I want to thank you for heeding that call. I want to thank you for heeding that call.

Now many of you know your Bibles well, and you know that one of the means that God used to allow these Gentiles an opportunity to especially love … How did God bring the Jews and the Gentiles together? What's the answer? It was through a famine. The principle is often trial and suffering. How do I bring these nations together? Often, trial and suffering becomes an occasion when the love of Christ can be especially and practically shared. See, we know this from studying our Bibles. God in his sovereignty allowed the early church in Jerusalem to suffer significant poverty.

II. Often Trial and Suffering Becomes an Occasion when the Love of Christ can be Especially and Practically Shared

Commentators believe that several factors came together in the early church. Remember, it was started in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost, but several factors came together to provide a perfect storm of poverty that gave Gentile churches an opportunity to show love for their Jewish brothers and sisters. How did that happen? Here's part of the perfect storm, so many of the new Christians in Jerusalem were pilgrims. In other words, they had come to Jerusalem for the Feast of Pentecost. That’s where they heard the gospel. The Bible tells us 3,000 placed their faith and trust in Christ on the first day.

Then if you read into the Book of Acts, you find that thousands of men and women are coming to Jesus Christ. If they wanted to hear more of the apostles' teaching, they weren't going home. They as pilgrims were going to stay in Jerusalem and somebody had to care for them. If you read the Book of Acts, the early church did an admirable job. They certainly tried, but then add to the fact that those in Jerusalem who came to Christ in some cases immediately lost their jobs, so you’ve got that economic hardship. You also have the fact that the pilgrims who were staying with Jewish family in Jerusalem, when they came to Christ, in some cases were told they had to leave home. There was also a general localized famine in that area along with it, so you put all of that together.

Even though they were trying their best to care for one another sacrificially, they weren't able to do it all. That’s when the Gentiles, recognizing their poverty, chose to take up the first love offering in the history of Christ's church. It was completely voluntary, but it was used to cement those various ethnic groups together. You can read about it in several places. Here's one, it's Romans 15 where Paul just said, kind of parenthetically, really, "Whenever I go to Spain," he said to the Romans, "I hope to see you in passing and to be helped on my way there by you when I first enjoyed your company for a while, but now," listen, "but now I'm going to Jerusalem serving the saints, for Macedonia and Achaia," the Gentiles, "have been pleased to make a contribution for the poor among the saints in Jerusalem."

Yes, they were pleased to do so and they're indebted to them, for the Gentiles that shared in their spiritual things. They got the Old Testament from the Jews. Jesus was Jewish. "If the Gentiles have shared in their spiritual things, they are indebted to minister to them also in material things." That’s what it is. "Therefore, when I have finished this and have put my seal on this fruit of theirs, I will go on by way of you to Spain." Here's the point. Poverty and suffering were used to draw the nations together in Christ's church.

After we had been in Cuba a couple of days, and Newton and I knew this, we knew that our church family would want to know what was going on and would want to know if there was any way that we might be able to serve the men and women in that place. For example, Newton found out that all the meals at the seminary for these pastors was going to be rice and beans, and then beans and rice, and then rice and beans. I'm sorry. Nothing wrong with that for us. Obviously, I can certainly afford to lose a few, so that wasn’t any problem to us. Newton quietly provided $300.00 to the cooks to go out and get some meat, and that changed those meals dramatically. You should have seen those pastors. It's like they were eating at Mountain Jack's after that.

We also asked some of the ladies to go into the city and purchase some lotions. We were trying to think what would our church family want us to do? To purchase some lotions and soaps and perfume for the pastors' wives, the kind of things that their husbands would seldom, if ever, be able to give them. We sent every one of those pastors home with a gift bag of just specialty kinds of things, personal items for their wives as an expression of love on your behalf for the sacrifice they were making for the gospel while their husbands were at this conference. We were just looking for ways, how can we show love? How can we show love? How can we be sure that we communicate that we care about you?

We also want to use this opportunity of having 8 suitcases and 4 briefcases that we can legally and profoundly bless as many people as we possibly can. We've organized what amounts to a Christmas For Everyone type event for our friends in Cuba. Now this is obviously only for people who really want to do this. This isn't a shakedown. You gave very graciously for Christmas For Everyone, gave very graciously for Hartford Hub. This is only for those who really want to get involved in this, but I know this. If you found out later that I had observed what I observed 2 weeks ago and that I hadn’t said anything to you about it, especially if there was an opportunity for us to show love, you'd be fussing to me then. I have to decide, fuss now, fuss later, which is why I travel so much. I'm just kidding around.

Here's what the Cuban strategy looks like. For one, we do plan to partner with Pastor Arocha and their seminary in the Dominican Republic to send staff members from Faith back to Cuba. That’s what they were asking us to do, to try to help them train their next generation of pastors and leaders. We count it a privilege to do that. Various staff members and lay persons are going to be doing that. There very well may be some opportunities for work trips along with that. We'll say more about it as we learn more.

We also asked them to contact 40 of their pastors whose families were in greatest need, and we asked them to give us clothing sizes. You would not believe how hard it is even to get clothing, even if you have the money. In some cases for very personal items or other clothes or toothbrushes, whatever might be a blessing to them. We have divided those requests into 3 lists for every Cuban family. Right now, there's 120 lists of specific clothing requests, and they’ve been divided up between Faith East and Faith West.

If you would like, only if you'd like to, but if you say, "I want in on this. I want to lay up for myself treasures in heaven where moth and rust don’t corrupt and thieves don’t break through and steal," well, I would encourage you to run that walk to the table in the foyer and pick up one of those lists if you're able to spend $40.00 to $50.00 for those kind of clothing items and if you're able to shop this week and if you're willing to bring that back next Sunday. Our goal is to pack 8 suitcases and have them ready when our Cuban friends arrive so they can take them back to these pastors in need.

There's also just the issue of technology. In fact, you’ve got a little thing in your bulletin you might want to pull out. It just talks about some of the opportunities here. For example, we have the opportunity to put 8 laptops in the hands of 8 seminary professors and key pastors. They're designed for heavy use. It's obviously less than ideal conditions, loaded with the latest high-powered Bible study software. It's a long story. Our team believes it's best to send a couple of Macs and 6 PCs. Please don't send me e-mails about that. That’s just what that team has decided to do.

I realize there may be someone here, maybe some families who say, "Look, don't have enough time to go shopping, but God's really blessed our family and if we could provide one of those laptops, we'd love to do that. Me and my buddy from the ABF, we would love to do that together. No pressure, but if you want to serve, that will make a dramatic difference in the rest of the ministry of some of these key leaders for sure.

There's also the issue of Kindles. My wife just bought me a Kindle. I never had a Kindle before. I like Kindles. You know what I like about Kindles the most? Two words, free download. I didn’t know you could do that. It's like, ho ho ho, I got all kinds of books now. You realize you can buy a Kindle, download 300 of the best Bible study commentaries and Bible study resources for free in Spanish and put that in the hands of a pastor, you’ve just given him an incredible library. I would love to send one for every pastor, I really would. We can only send 8, but if you would like to be part of doing that, there's also thumb drives, there's also glasses. If you say, "Look, either somebody else beat me to the table and there's no other clothing list," or, "I don’t have time to go shopping, but I want to get involved in this," you see the people at the table and they'll be happy to show you how you can serve.

Let me just try to illustrate the impact that that could have on a pastor. [Inaudible 00:43:56]. I'm a facility guy. One of the first things I noticed was there's no parking lot. We got to the seminary, where's the parking lot? I came to understand why they didn’t have a parking lot. None of them came by car. We just started talking to people. For example, the guy to Newton's right in that picture, if you can see it, he's wearing kind of an olive green T-shirt.

Just as an example, we asked him how then he got to the conference. He said, "Well, it took me about 12 hours to get to this conference. I started by public transportation." Don’t think city bus when I say that, okay. Public transportation means some bus from back in the '50s that the Cubans … It's amazing what they do to vehicles. You would not want to ride on them. You take public transportation for a while and then that stops. Then you jump on the back of a truck hauling rice, so you're bouncing around on that thing for a while on their road, whatever it takes. I was totally amazed at the amount of sacrifice that these pastors would make just to receive any kind of teaching from the word of God. I said in my heart, and I think you would too, if there is some way what we could be a blessing to them in a way that shows demonstrable love for the nations, I want to be all about that, for sure.

The last morning the conference was done, it ended on a Wednesday night, and then Thursday morning we were traveling back to Havana. That morning, I went … First of all, I had my devotions in the latter chapters of Genesis, and I read about Jacob pronouncing his blessing on his sons. Then as the sun was coming up, I went out running. Running in Cuba is a fascinating experience, too, but you start on this little dirt road that you share with cows and what cows have left behind, so you're kind of dodging all of that.

Then you get out to the main road. That’s fascinating, too, but as I was crossing out to the main road, the sun was just coming up, I saw a bunch of people out at the bus stop. Didn’t really think much about it. All of a sudden, as I'm running down the road, I hear these words in perfect English, "God bless you, teacher." What it turned out, it was some of the dear people who had been at the conference. They were already at the bus stop. They were already making their way home, and to me, in the context of thinking about Jacob's blessing, I had one of these dear men in my own language saying, "God bless you, teacher, for coming and giving us the word." I thought as I ran down the road, he already did. He already did just by giving me the privilege And the opportunity to represent us in this place.

III. Christians Caring for the Poor and those of Various Ethnicities Can Be and Is a Powerful Testimony to the Beauty of the Gospel

Where does it lead? It leads here. Christians caring for the poor and those of various ethnicities can be … It's a powerful testimony to the beauty of the gospel. See, what happened as a result? Let me conclude by reading this passage from the Book of Ephesians that talks about how the Jews and the Gentiles were united because the Gentiles showed love in this particular way. Paul said, "For by grace you’ve been saved through faith." You know that verse. "Not of yourselves, it's a gift of God. Not as a result of works so no one may boast. For we are his workmanship created in Christ Jesus for good works." We know those verses.

Have you ever read the next ones? "Therefore, remember that formerly you were the Gentiles in the flesh who were called uncircumcision by the so-called circumcision, which is performed in the flesh by human hands. Remember that you were a concept from Christ excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, strangers to the covenant of promise, having no hope without God in the world, but now in Christ Jesus you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ, for he himself is our peace, who made both groups." You hear that? "Gentiles and Jews, both groups into one. It broke down the barrier of the dividing wall by abolishing in his flesh the enmity which is the law of commandment contained in order so that in himself he might make the two and a whole lot of other nations now into one new man, thus establishing peace."

I don’t know what's going to happen politically between the U.S. and Cuba, but I know what's happening between the church and the U.S. and Cuba, and the church in the U.S. and the Dominican Republic, and the church in the U.S. and Albania, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. Friends, God loves the world, huh? It really pleases him when we do too, including loving the mission fields of the world. Would you stand with me for prayer?

Father in heaven, thank you for this delightful part of the story of the church. Lord, thank you for being a God who loves the nations. Lord, we would acknowledge our prejudices. It's so easy to judge others. It's so easy to look down on those who are not like us. I pray that we would let the Holy Spirit transform us to have a genuine love for the nations. Father, also I pray that that wouldn’t just be something that we talk about. I pray that it would be something that we do. Father, thank you for the marvelous privilege of being part of this church family, who has demonstrated historically, who will demonstrate today and in the coming weeks that we want to be like our God. We want to love the world. We want to love the mission fields of the world. We pray this in Christ's name. Amen. 

Steve Viars

B.S. - Bible, Baptist Bible College
M.Div. - Grace Theological Seminary
D.Min. - Westminster Theological Seminary

Pastor Steve Viars has served at Faith Church since 1987. He and his wife Kris were married in 1982 and have two married daughters, a son, and two grandchildren. Pastor Viars’ gifted teaching ministry, enthusiasm for the Word of God, and organizational skills are instrumental in equipping Faith Church. He oversees the staff, deacons, and all Faith ministries and serves on the boards of the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors, Biblical Counseling Coalition, Vision of Hope, and the Faith Community Development Corporation.

Read Steve Viars’ Journey to Faith for the full account of how the Lord led Pastor Viars to Faith Church.

View Pastor Viars' Salvation Testimony Video