Fruitfulness Amid Oppression

Some Risk Everything To Go Into All The World To Share The Gospel.

Steve Richardson
Sep 13, 2020    42m
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How far are you willing to go to share the good news of Jesus? By hearing gripping stories of real life mission work, we learn that some are willing to risk everything, even their lives, to go into the world to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Video recorded at Grapevine, Texas.

Transcription
messageRegarding Grammar:

This is a transcription of the sermon. People speak differently than they write, and there are common colloquialisms in this transcript that sound good when spoken, and look like bad grammar when written.

Steve Richardson: 00:07 Good morning, brothers and sisters. Isn't it good to be gathered together, even in these chaotic and tumultuous times. And we praise the Lord that the most important thing happening in the world today is not a virus, and it's not social turmoil, it's not even an election coming up, but it's God's fulfillment of his promise that the gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony and then the end will come. As important as all of those things are, it's a part of what God is doing and moving around the world. You and I are the people of the lifted eyes. We aren't just consumed with our myopic little world, like so many people are, we've been given the big picture and we understand that there is a theme in the scriptures.

Steve Richardson: 01:05 Some time ago, I was invited to speak in China to a group of about 400 students. And to my delight, they asked me to speak on what is the theme of the Bible? I thought, wow, what a tremendous opportunity. And I unpacked how God called a man named Abraham 4,000 years ago, and he gave him a promise and said, I'm going to bless all nations on earth through you. So the theme of the Bible I suggested to them, is that God is glorifying himself by blessing all nations and peoples on the face of the earth, through his seed, through Abraham's descendant Jesus, the Messiah. And it was just an amazing opportunity to share.

Steve Richardson: 01:48 And I love your theme about what does it mean to really have a deep passion and faith and walk with God, and the cost of true obedience and discipleship. And that topic floods my mind with a lot of stories. Another story in China, we traveled by train all night to an isolated location, got off the train, this guy met us there. The sun was just rising, swept us into a van, the curtains were closed on the van. We bumped for about two hours over the roads, back into the countryside. Then the van stopped and they pulled up this little like egg shaped vehicle to the back door of the van, and so that no one on the countryside could see us, especially as foreigners, we were able to crawl through, into this. And then they bumped even further out into this little walled compound, and there were 60 or 70 passionate followers of the Lord Jesus Christ, eager to soak up any teaching that they could have. It was like a little Bible school, and underground Bible school. And we shared, and the passion, seriously, I thought to myself, if only we could see more frequently that kind of passion in other parts of the world that have had the gospel for so long. Wouldn't that be amazing? And they were even, they were just crying and praying, and the guy who led us out there had just come out of two years in prison because of his faith. And I thought these people have so much to teach us in the West about what it means to be a passionate follower of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Steve Richardson: 03:28 It reminded me too of a friend of mine, he was a missionary kid growing up overseas, his name was Paul Newman. Not the Paul Newman I think you're thinking of, but my friend Paul. And his whole family, his siblings, and his parents and the pilot were killed in a plane crash, Paul was the only one who survived. The pilot had found himself in the wrong Valley, cloudy couldn't turn around, crashed. Paul Newman crawled out of the gaping hole in the back of the little Cessna aircraft, and was the only one to survive. And he looked up and he saw a village up there and gradually tears streaming down his cheeks, he made his way up to that little village. Not realizing that this was the very Valley in which just a short time earlier two missionaries, Stan Dale from Australia, and Phil Masters from Iowa, had been martyred for their faith. And here he was going to the very village where these warriors had killed two missionaries, just a few months earlier to find help.

Steve Richardson: 04:29 And the amazing story of how God used that little boy to open up that tribe, and there was an old man who protected him from harm. And then one of the people that was called to help reach this tribe, and the neighboring tribe, was a woman named Eleanor Young, who almost died of polio when she was small. And here she had her braces on her legs, and Eleanor was called to these 13,000 foot high mountains to reach these fierce tribes. And I thought as a boy growing up there in the Island of new Guinea, I thought, wow, God has an amazing, really mysterious plan. What he does, and who he calls, and where he puts them, it's just amazing to think of what he's doing to fulfill that promise to take the good news of salvation in the name of Jesus Christ, the son of God, to the ends of the earth.

Steve Richardson: 05:21 And so I have a central question for us today, and that is what price are you willing to pay, what price am I willing to pay, in order to show our love for the Lord and to put God's glory on display among the nations? You know, I just went through buying a van for our family, we were tired of the two very old cars that we've been driving for a long time, and it was my wife's 60th birthday. I thought, let's give her a nice semi-new van, a nice 2017, you know, top of the line. And I had to think to myself, okay, what price are we willing to pay? And on a much grander scale, I guess I want to put before us the question this morning, what price are you willing to pay to express your thanksgiving and your devotion to the Savior of your life? Not just for this lifetime, but for eternity, what sacrifices would you be willing to make?

Steve Richardson: 06:21 My parents back in the early 1960s, when I was six months old back in 1962, carried me, we went by ship. We ended up in the Highlands of New Guinea. One of the missionaries who had preceded us there and said, hey, we've just heard about this tribe down in the Southern swamps. It's really, really, it's not cool like it is up here in the Highlands. And they live in tree houses, we don't know much about them, I'm sure their language is complex. Would you be happy to take the gospel to that place? And my mom and dad, I'd like to think they glanced at me first, and they said, yes, that's what we've come to do. Dad went in and made one of the first contacts with the Sawi people, and using sign language, got their help, building a little house. Communicated, I'm going to come back in about 10 days’ time with my wife and my little baby. We want to live here, we want to learn your language, and it wasn't sure if they understood. But when we rounded the last bend after paddling all day, the three of us with our brave paddlers from an enemy tribe next door. Silhouetted against that setting tropical sun was a throng of 400 Sawi cannibal head-hunters waiting to welcome us. And the canoe slid to a stop in the mud at their feet, and dad reached over and picked me up out of my mother's arms. Not knowing that in the Sawi culture, if a man came with no weapons in his hands, carrying a baby, it was a clear sign that he was coming in peace. We made our way, mom and dad made their ways slipping and sliding up through the mud that throng of warriors closed around us, they started beating on their long drums and dancing around us, swept us up to that little notched stair pole, going up into the little house that was about 20 feet by 20, feet smaller than this stage. And then the Sawi danced around that house for three days and three nights without stopping, these extra-terrestrials had arrived and they were peaceful, and they were so excited. And come to find out that the Sawi people not only lived in tree houses, 40 or 50 feet off the surface of the swamp, but they were people who were at constant war with each other.

Steve Richardson: 08:31 And when dad had the opportunity, finally, after several months of language learning, to explain about Jesus. To his shock and horror, the Sawi men, through the smoke and that man house started laughing and chuckling and they thought Judas was the hero of the story. They said, tell us more about Judas. Dad thought he wasn't hearing right? He said, do you mean Jesus? He said, no, no Judas, he sounds like one of us. And dad said, what do you mean? And they said, well, we love treachery, and that's something we do. If we encounter somebody, we don't kill them on the spot. If we have the opportunity, we befriend them, we invite them to celebrations over time, gain their trust, only at the moment of truth to betray them. They had an expression for it, it was called [inaudible] which means to do with a man as you would do with a pig, fatten it with friendship over a long period of time for eventual slaughter. And my parents were horrified, it's like, how are these people ever going to understand the gospel message? And yet God had placed a cultural key, the concept of actually the only way they could make peace was to actually give one of their children to the enemy. And that as long as that child lived, the peace could endure, because the peace hinged on the life of that child. It's essentially the gospel in a nutshell, two parties at war, one party so wanting to be reconciled that he actually goes to the expense of giving his son, his only son. And I can go into much more detail, but you can read about that story in my father's book, Peace Child, that's a missionary classic. And I'm a little biased, but I think every believer should read that story of how the gospel broke through in one of the most alien contacts for the arrival of the message from the middle East, the message of salvation in the Lord Jesus Christ. But I can't help but think back and look back on my mother and my father in their twenties, carrying their newborn little boy, Steven, into a throng of cannibal head-hunter warriors, 400 of the armed to the teeth. Does that make sense? Does it make sense that Phil Masters and Stan Dale gave their lives, and left families behind because of their zeal to see the gospel beachhead established in the Yali tribe, and the Kimial tribe, and the other tribes of the Highlands of the world's second largest Island.

Steve Richardson: 11:03 So this leads me with this question in mind to a key passage, and I'm just going to skim through, we could probably go into a lot more detail. But as First Corinthians 16:9. First Corinthians 16:9, is one of those verses, where in your quiet time, you might just kind of glide over this and it doesn't look that super important. Because Paul is explaining to the Corinthians why he's been delayed. He had been indicating that he was going to come, and I think some of the Corinthians were beginning to say, is Paul a man of his word? And have you ever had people misunderstand your intentions because the circumstances of your own journey have prevented you from following through on an opportunity? And here the apostle Paul says, "I'm going to stay on at Ephesus until Pentecost." Why? Because number one, a great door for effective work has opened to me. And number two, there are many who oppose me. So he's basically saying, I'm going to stay here, at least for a little bit longer, until Pentecost because number one, there's a huge door of opportunity that God has opened to me, and number two, there's tremendous opposition. Now the first one I can a little bit understand, the second one is like, if there's a lot of opposition, shouldn't you be kind of hightailing it out of there?

Steve Richardson: 12:25 And so to get the background, really, you have to turn over to Acts chapter 19, and you might want to just be reviewing a little bit of the background there in Acts chapter 19. And I would like to just share a little bit of what I think is some of the background to those two statements that Paul was offering as an explanation for why he needed to stay in Ephesus longer. A great door for effective work has opened to me, and there are many, not a few, many who oppose me. Acts chapter 19 is really, you might view it as a case study in the advance of the church. And it sums up the reality of where the gospel goes, and as it advances there's always two things going on. There are people walking through doors of opportunity, and there are people opposing with everything in there being, the advance of that lifesaving message. It's a war, and it's the messengers of light invading the kingdom of darkness.

Steve Richardson: 13:40 It reflects two key questions that we should all be asking every day of our lives. What are the opportunities that God has given me? And what is the nature of the opposition that I face, or collectively as a church, giving us and that we face? So we mustn't be blind to either one. And your job and mine is to live our lives, our individual precious temporal journeys on planet earth, in such a way that we are intentionally and strategically moving through those doors of opportunity during the short time he's given us. Is that a fair description, do you think, of your life? And if you were to just do a private evaluation of your own walk with the Lord, and your passion for him, on a scale of 1 to 10, I just throw this out for further consideration. Where do you think honestly, you would fall in the scheme of things? Especially as you read the scriptures, and secondarily, as you hear the stories of what God's people are experiencing and going through in other parts of the world.

Steve Richardson: 14:53 And so opportunity, Ephesus was a key city, Paul found himself in a strategic place. The most famous and populous city in Asia Minor, modern day Turkey. Ephesus was culturally, economically, politically educationally, religiously, it was a leading city. One of the key leading cities of the Roman Empire. The theater there, I've had the privilege of being there, could seat 25,000 people. I mean, there was a gorgeous bay, you could just picture it in the back of that day. The water came right up to there, and you could just picture the ships out there. What an amazing spot, the temple of Artemis, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, 400 feet long, 127 white marble columns, with that cultic image of Artemis inside. But there, Paul found 12 people who had some truth, but didn't know a whole lot, but they had responsive hearts. And wherever we go with the gospel message, we find that God has prepared some people for the arrival of the message that they need to hear. These 12 disciples, he baptized them in the name of Jesus, they had only known about John prior to that time.

Steve Richardson: 16:09 So they're talking about the persecuted church. You see several characteristics, so they basically started as a small group, and then they preached three months in the synagogue boldly and out loud, that's another characteristic of the persecuted church. Does it characterize us today? Courage and boldness? And Paul preached boldly there in that church. He argued persuasively, we read, it was an unapologetic proclamation and defense of the gospel. And one of the ways you can pray for our brothers and sisters in other environments, as well as here in this country is, Lord, give us your courage, help us to stand fearlessly for the truth of God's revealed plan and will through the scriptures. So many people shrink back when the rubber meets the road, but not many courageous leaders in many parts of the world, praise the Lord.

Steve Richardson: 17:08 And then they had daily discussions, and they moved because of the opposition into the secular context, into the Hall of Tyrannus. And we read that for a period of two years, Paul intensively, intensely taught this growing group of believers. And so this wasn't just kind of a casual, like once a week, you know, I think I'll tune in and maybe get a little bit of little bit of spiritual input. This was like a daily intensive, what does all this mean? What does your calling in Christ mean and so forth? And it was like a seminary, or a Bible school experience. What does our church experience look like? How deep does it go? What is your devotional life like? What does it mean to truly be a passionate follower of the Savior of the world? And then as a result, extraordinary miracles were happening, and you see the power of prayer being unleashed and supernatural things happening. And as a result of that, then all the Jews and Greeks who lived in the whole province of Asia, heard the word of the Lord. Now this was in a relatively short period of time, and this is what happens. I was just reminded of Jonah going to Nineveh, it's like the pagans, they we're remarkably responsive. And it's amazing what can happen in a relatively short period of time, not always, often, it's a long process. But in some cases it's amazing because of the courage and the intensity of the teaching, and the clarity of the message, that it's actually the opposition that becomes the megaphone, and that becomes the media and the medium for which the message goes out. So Paul recognized a huge God-given strategic opportunity for discipling and for church planting, what we might call today, a church planting movement. In this way, the Word of the Lord spread widely and grew in power.

Steve Richardson: 18:59 So when he writes to the Corinthians and says, "A great door of opportunity has opened to me." He's not kidding, is he? That is not just a light passing observation that he's making, it really has a lot of context and meaning packed into it. So these, I call these GDOs, great doors of opportunity. And GDOs are unique windows that come our way in God's design, they're packed with potential, they're part of God's plan for our lives. They involve high stakes, they often require wrenching decisions, and they have an element of risk. Just like it did for mom and dad, as they carried me, and later, my two brothers and my sister were born there as well. They can be generational, and they can be individual. The people of Israel, when they arrived there to the promised land, the first generation said, oh, no, the giants are too big and they didn't walk through their GDO. But then 40 years later, another generation led by Joshua said, yes, we can do it, God is great.

Steve Richardson: 20:05 And so they can be generational, and they can be individual. There can be members of your family who walk through their GDOs, and others who don't. Noah had his, God said, build a big boat. How many years was he building that boat by faith? And Abraham leave your surroundings, and your career, and the head off, and I'm not even telling you where you're going to go, someday I'll tell you. Hebrew says, he didn't even know where he was going. Joseph, interpret the dream. Moses, return to Egypt where your face is still plastered on the most wanted posters, because I've got a task for you to do there. Joshua, be strong and courageous. Esther, speak to the King. God is in the business of opening up GDOs, for those who are wholehearted. For the eyes of the Lord reign throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to Him.

Steve Richardson: 20:58 As God is scanning planet earth for people whose hearts are fully committed to him, does he notice you? Are you one of the people that comes up on his radar screen with a blip, here are some spiritual life signs? And then God sponsors you, and carries you, and nurtures you, into deeper levels of devotion, and of faith, and of experiencing the power of God in your life. And the overflow of his grace and his mercy into the lives of others, so that they too can become members of the great family of God, along with hundreds of millions of other saved people.

Steve Richardson: 21:35 What are some of the GDOs for our generation today? Speaking generationally, we're talking about unprecedented understanding of the biblical mandate on the unfinished task. Generations past didn't know about the Maori of New Zealand, and about the Minangkabau of Sumatra, or the Peoples of Mongolia. When Jesus said to his disciples, the kingdom of God is like a mustard seed and it starts really small, and then it's eventually going to become a big enough tree that the birds of the air rest in the branches. Little did they realize that, I think, he was talking about the fact that the Kingdom of God is starting really small with this motley crew. But as the message goes out, there are going to be the nations of the world, the peoples, the 17,000 or whatever number of ethnic groups of the world, that are going to find their new identity in relation to the spiritual super power, and that is the kingdom of God.

Steve Richardson: 22:36 And throughout the Old Testament, you see that picture of the birds of the air representing the nations, and the tree represents a great superpower, the empires of the day, Babylon, Assyria, Israel, and animals find shade under the tree. And this is what God is doing, he is building his kingdom, it's a great tree. And the nations of the world, all the languages, the 7,000 languages spoken around the world, we'll have people who will be part of that glorious, glorious picture. So unprecedented understanding, the 7,000 unreached people groups, the 1,100 or so relatively unengaged, unreached people groups, where there's not even a team trying to reach them with the gospel. Unprecedented access to the unreached. We don't have to go by ship like my parents and I did on my first overseas mission trip back in 1962. We have incredible access, and also via media. and so many other things. There is tremendous global uncertainty. There are people whose hearts are searching, there's got to be more. The Muslim world is more open than I think it's ever been. More Muslims, I understand, have come to faith in Jesus in the last 15 years than in all prior history put together. The fastest growing church in the world today, I understand is the Persian church, the Iranian church. One of our fellow missionaries in Jakarta found an address for an international church, and when he got there he found they weren't speaking English, they were speaking Farsi, and he realized this was an Iranian church in Jakarta. And there are six Persian speaking churches, I understand, in Seoul, Korea. So God is doing it, God is on the March among the Iranians, and among the Iraqis, and among so much. And God is an expert at hiding what he's doing, and only revealing it to those, just like his parables, who have hearts that are tuned in to the big picture.

Steve Richardson: 24:26 And God is bringing the mission field to us in this country, as so many of the nations are coming here, are we reaching out? There was a Saudi student who went back to Saudi Arabia, I heard about, and before he left, he dropped off the suitcase at the international students office. And he said, I won't be needing to take this home. And after he left, one of the staff there in the office opened it up and there was a note. This suitcase is full of the gifts that I would have wanted to give to an American family, if I had ever been invited into an American home. And when I hear a story like, I think, wow, what a missed opportunity. God forbid that we would neglect the opportunities that he is bringing right to our doorstep in this day and age. And I could go on, that God's Word is becoming available within 15 or 20 years. It's quite possible, digitally and otherwise, that virtually everyone will have access to the scriptures in a language that they can understand if not in their heart language. And Jesus said, I will build my church, the unreached people groups are being reached. There's still a long way to go, but boy, the advance in my lifetime alone is amazing.

Steve Richardson: 25:36 So my wife, when we arrived there in Southeast Asia and one of the largest unreached people groups in the world, wasn't sure what God's strategy was for her. And she prayed the prayer. Lord, bless this people group through me. What do you have in mind? And she came across a friend who had been divorced, and had a baby, and was destitute, and the baby was with her in the home. One day when I care package arrived from a group of very elderly praying quilters in North Carolina, and out of the box came a couple of lovingly and prayerfully stitched quilts. And one day we saw those beautiful quilts, she said to Arlene, she said, could you teach me how to make those things or something like that? They're so beautiful. And Arlene kind of swallowed, she loved to sew, but she'd never made a quilt. And they went out and they bought some cloth, and [inaudible] went back to her village and got the help of her relatives to start stitching some of these beautiful pieces of cloth together and came back. And Arlene was quite impressed, it's like for somebody who's had no training, this is a decent start. And before you knew it, we have 30 to 40 people in our house, and the home was no longer our own. I was like trying to find refuge in some corner of the house because it had been turned into a production center for quilts. And one guy got so excited, he had been selling soup on the side of the road for years, trying to feed his five children. And here he was learning a skill, how to handle a sewing machine, and how to sew and stitch quilts. And he got so excited he said, [inaudible] do you mind if I just keep working tonight? And Arlene said, well, you can work in the shed, the little space there in our backyard because we're going to bed. The next morning he came out and he had a quilt so big, it was twice the size of a King size quilt. And when all his friends and relatives arrived back for work the next morning, they said, [inaudible], what happened? [inaudible] said, well, [inaudible] taught me how to start, but she never taught me how to stop. They called it the village quilt, they said a whole village can sleep under this thing. And the amazing thing in God's sense of humor, you'll see it all over the place, but here quilts in the tropics. Literally, several million dollars’ worth of quilts and other crafts have been sold, have been produced and sold over the last 20 years or more through this group. And many people have come to faith in the Lord Jesus in one of the major Muslim unreached people groups. Along with a lot of other amazing things that happened, because Arlene took the time and prayed the prayer, Lord, lead me through my GDO.

Steve Richardson: 28:25 All right, now we get to the main part. And I just want to unpack just a little bit that other part of the equation, the other side of the coin, because Paul said, and there are many who oppose me. And there in acts chapter 19, he talks about several forms of opposition. Now I'm not sure this is a comprehensive list, but it's sure a good one. And here are some of the things that he mentioned. He mentions impeders, people who impede the ministry and the advance of the gospel. "But some of them became obstinate.", we read in verse 9 . The second category is imposters, Sceva and his seven sons, false ministers, sowing seeds of confusion, a constant threat to the advance of the gospel and the unity of the church. A third category is institutions, Demetrius and the trade unions, it might be governments and any form of institution that finds itself opposed to the advance of the gospel. And then a fourth category is what I call intimidators, people trying to instill fear. And yet Paul says to Timothy, "God has not given us a spirit of timidity, he's given us a spirit of power, and of love, and of sound discipline." But behind that, you could add illusionists. You know, the illusions that whole societies are under, that prevent them from understanding the gospel message. The whole idea of treachery for the Sawi was a false reality, not in alignment with God's revealed plan for humanity. And I'm sure we have our counterparts, as sophisticated as we might think we are in the Western world.

Steve Richardson: 30:05 Behind it all is a satanic conspiracy to obstruct the spread of the gospel. Paul says elsewhere, that we were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we even despaired of life. And if Paul says he was despairing of life, I'm sure his tipping point was quite a bit further down the road than it might be for you and me. Arlene and I have been watching a series called Alone, and it's about people that are surviving out in the wilderness. And you just kind of watch, what is this? And some of the people you think are going to stay a long time, they don't last very long at all. But Paul says, we despaired even of life.

Steve Richardson: 30:45 And in our ministry, in this major Muslim people group, and we were there for over a decade, leading a network of multiplying, strategically engaged church planting teams. We encountered all kinds of opposition, and all kinds of hardship. One colleague was stabbed repeatedly by intruders who came into her home during the night. Another worker was in enveloped in flames after her stove's gas can blew up, and she died 22 days later. A volcano erupted on one of our summer teams, after they had climbed all night up to the perimeter and were having a prayer meeting, and some of them have lifelong burns and scars as a result. Team members, myself included, typhoid, hepatitis, I had hepatitis for a year myself. And TB, tuberculosis, and evacuations, and one of our friends died of Dengue Fever after complications. We encountered rioting Muslims, burning all the churches in a certain area or region of the country. Thousands of believers were being massacred in neighboring islands, and it didn't even show up on the radar screen in the media in the West until 9/11 happened. And yet, all this was going on, thousands of believers were being killed. Constant visa troubles, interrogations, betrayals, burglaries, car accidents, I could tell you story after story of all these misadventures. Ministry money being stolen, curses being placed on us, magical charms and fetishes in our house, a teammate was poisoned and nearly died, so we can identify just a little bit in our own personal journey and experience with Paul's comment. We live under constant danger of death because we serve Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may be obvious in our dying bodies.

Steve Richardson: 32:47 Brothers and sisters, are you a threat today to the kingdom of darkness? I mentioned earlier, God's radar scanning for spiritual life signs. The devil has a radar too, and he's looking for who's the threat to my kingdom of darkness. Do you show up on that radar as well? And I think there's so much, so much reflective power packed into this quote from pastor Erwin McManus. He says, "I think a lot of us are not on path, we're in a rut. We have confused comfort with peace, belief with faith, safety with wisdom, wealth with blessing, and existence with life. As disciples of the Lord Jesus, let us not fall prey to these illusions of our culture." The gospel has a very real personal and powerful enemy, he wants to distract, he wants to intimidate. Now, if he can get away with just distracting you, then he's done his job, that's all that's needed. He doesn't have to bother necessarily with all the other things, but if you can't be distracted, then some of these other things start kicking into gear. But sadly, for me myself and perhaps for many others, just keeping us distracted with the cares of life and our materialistic lifestyle is pretty much enough to keep us out of the game. The gospel is a very real, personal, and powerful enemy, and there's one thing more than any other that he wants to prevent, and that is the fulfillment of the mission that God has given to us.

Steve Richardson: 34:48 I think if you walk into a Chick-fil-A, you'll see a mission statement there. Wherever your business is, you probably have a mission statement, and the goal is to stay on mission. What is our mission, and are we staying on mission? Are we taking the lifesaving message of the gospel to the whole world, so that then the end will come, and everything else falls into line as we glorify God and worship him through our obedience and not just through our words. So we overcome barriers of distance in the process, and barriers of language, we cross cultural grand canyons, and political barriers, and economic hurdles. And most of all, perhaps spiritual opposition, as Paul is describing there in acts chapter 19. The task seems overwhelming sometimes, and the opposition is fierce. I mean 7.8 billion or whatever it is now, that's a lot of people. If you've stood in a line like this, one foot each, that line of precious men, women and children would stretch from here to the moon, back to the earth again, to the moon a second time, back to the earth a second time, back to the moon again, and halfway back to the earth again, and the Lord Jesus died for every single man, woman and child standing in that sacred line.

Steve Richardson: 36:03 We have good news, the advance of the church is unstoppable because the Father wills it, the Son has promised it, the Spirit empowers us for it, the church is designed beautifully and remarkably for every culture. And God's people, at least in some corners, are awakening to their heavenly calling. So it was a number of years ago that a remarkably passionate and gifted young lady joined us in Pioneers. She'd been valedictorian of her class, and could have gone on with more scholarships, but felt a sense of urgency in her heart to go to one of the most difficult places on the earth, to Afghanistan. And so Sharon went there and she had training in nutritional gardening, and she started fruit and vegetable gardens, and she started training people how to turn the desert into luscious, luscious gardens. And how to develop greenhouses, just using materials that were available, plastic and so forth for the terrible winters that they have there. And she held clinics for women and children, and she became fluent in the Pashto and the Dari languages. Sharon talked about planting gardens, but her teammates and the Afghans said she was the garden because everywhere she went, she brought hope, and life, and the love of Jesus with her. And one day she was invited to join a team to go, and she was going to be a translator because she was so good in the language, and off they went. And I was an 80 mile hike round trip, imagine 40 miles each way, and up over a 17,000 foot path. Now, anybody who's done some hiking in the Sierras or wherever, 17,000 feet is no laughing matter, they had to leave the horses behind. And when they reached these remote villages and they did eye clinics because there are so many issues in Afghanistan, probably the most in the world. And before she left, I had an email from her, from Sharon, and it was sent to several of her supporters. And she playfully said, if I don't come back, you'll know where I am, they will have made me a queen. Well, that team finished a week or so of treatments, and they started their way back. And up they went over that high pass, blizzard, snow, trying to find shelter, they finally made their way back down and they crossed over river and there was kind of a nice grassy area. Their land rovers were parked there, and they thought let's have a nice lunch before we drive back to Kabul. And just as they were enjoying their meal, a band of Taliban broke out of the trees over there on the perimeter and started throwing grenades, and they tried to find refuge in the vehicles, but it was all for not, and all 10 of those aid workers lost their lives in that process. And the Afghans, and of course her team members wept, Lord, why have you taken our dear sister? The Afghans said that she was one of us, she had our heart, there was not a woman in all of our entire country as kind as Sharon was. And I have to ask myself, Lord, what do you have in mind?

Steve Richardson: 39:33 One of the videos we have from her journey before the Lord took her back to home, was a video where she explained that her heart was to do the hard work. Jesus said to his disciples, that others have done the hard work and you're reaping the harvest. And Sharon saw herself as being among those who did the hard work. She said, my job here, from an agricultural background, is to chuck the spiritual rocks in the hopes that someday somebody will come and we'll be able to plant the seed of the gospel even more than I have been able to do, and we'll reap spiritual harvest for the glory of God. And I just called her parents, her father has been a pastor his whole life, he just retired. And I just thanked them once again, last month, for the ultimate sacrifice that they made for the name of Jesus Christ.

Steve Richardson: 40:21 So brothers and sisters, we are part of what God is doing around the world? There are so many who still have not heard the good news that sometimes you and I can take for granted. In light of that revealed big picture, are we living it intentionally? What open door is God placing before you? And one thing that I love is that GDO, if you just kind of rearrange the letters, it's that you see God in all of this. And all of these GDOs are sourced from God and for his glory, and we are the weak vessels through which he is pleased to work.

Steve Richardson: 40:57 So let's bow our heads, brothers and sisters, and let's pray a prayer that I think is maybe the most powerful prayer that anybody can pray. It's from the very Psalm that was read earlier in the service, Psalm 67. It's simply this, Lord bless the nations through me. Lord, we as your people, pray that you will bless the nations through us, through 121 Community Church. And Father, for each one of us individually, and through our children, and our grandchildren, we pray that the name of Jesus will be lifted high. And we just thank you, and Lord, we want to pray that prayer, we to put it on our bathroom mirrors, or somewhere where we'll be reminded to pray every single day. Lord, bless the nations through me.

Steve Richardson: 41:41 So go ahead and just reflect a little bit, how has God spoken to your heart and life today through His Word?



Recorded in Grapevine, Texas.
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121 Community Church
2701 Ira E Woods Ave.
Grapevine, Texas 76051
817.488.1213