Friday, July 27, 2007

Lessons from Turkey, part III

I have no clue what I’m doing—but God does.

In his second letter to Timothy, St. Paul exhorts the young pastor at Ephesus to “[r]emember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my gospel, for which I am suffering, bound with chains as a criminal. But the word of God is not bound! Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory.”

In this letter Paul sounds a strong call to “share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God” (1:8), embodying the treasure of the gospel and portraying Christ as crucified. Part of his sufferings led to an earlier and less severe house arrest in Rome, during which he was able to preach the good news “unhindered” (Acts 28:31). Was St. Luke kidding when he wrote that? Unhindered? Really? If the gospel’s impact relied upon the Apostle’s eloquent communication and personal freedom, then the message would’ve stayed chained there with him. But God is the one in control, not Rome—or prime ministers or secular university professors or religious imams or family patriarchs—and by the power of his Spirit his word will accomplish its intended purpose in people's hearts!

This reality kept Paul going despite all his apparent failures and setbacks. He didn’t labor out of a desperate hope that perhaps he could woo a few of the “lost” over to Christ’s side; nay, he suffered “for the sake of the elect,” those who are chosen and “found” by God. The Father has foreordained them for salvation, the Son has purchased them by his blood on the Cross, and the Holy Spirit creates and sustains their faith. In other words, God actually saves sinners.

For me, too, God’s sovereign freedom in saving people really must be the only hope for the world. Even if I were a Turk and able to speak the language, I think I would have little hope of actually convincing someone that he is a rebellious God-hater in need of forgiveness and an estranged child in need of reconciliation, yet saved apart from anything he has or can do, simply on the basis of a Jewish rabbi who was ignominiously exterminated upon a Roman cross. And on top of that, he would need to deny his familial and cultural values (“To be a Turk is to be a Muslim”), putting himself to open reproach, and daily die to himself as well. Yeah, right!

Every day, I felt like I had absolutely no clue what I was doing. I was some goofy yabancı (foreigner) whose Turkish is pretty feeble, with little real understanding of the cultural mindset, experiences, and values. And yet people did come to faith through us and through the witness of others, both native and foreign, around Turkey and the Muslim world. C. F. W. Walther, the first president of the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS), concurs and offers this encouragement:

Ah, if this great, important, holy matter rested on the fervor of our love, on the abundance of our means, on the training of our missionaries; in short, if it rested on our will and on our faith and strength, then we would have a sad situation. For we are poor miserable sinners, whose love soon disappears; whose strength is only weakness; and whose knowledge is only patchwork. But we should not look at ourselves, but only at the fact that God has commanded this work of missions. He has promised to bless our humble work, and to bless it abundantly.

Accordingly my favorite verse over these past two years has been Romans 15:21 (quoting Isaiah 52:15): “As it is written, ‘Those who have never been told of him will see, and those who have never heard will understand.’” Amen.


Halfmom, AKA, Susan said...

and in response to your favorite verse, I will begin the quote of one that has become near and dear to me from the same book - "for I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power OF GOD for salvation to ALL those who believe.

Halfmom, AKA, Susan said...

You have been tagged at

or at halfmom, aka, susan