I rejoice to report that I just returned from my first conference since my heart attack nearly nineteen months ago. The event was held in Barcelona, Spain. My physical weakness was evident, but God greatly aided in everything from traveling to preaching.
I traveled with Jeff S., the HeartCry coordinator over northern Europe. Because of our lay overs and hour changes, our travel time was nearly 20 hours and we went nearly 35 hours without sleep. As global travel goes, this trip would have been allocated to the “easy” category, but being my first time out, it led me to doubt my decision embark.
When we finally arrived at the conference area in Barcelona, we discovered that it had been converted into something of a shelter for immigrants and refugees from northern Africa and other areas of the world that are suffering under political turmoil, terrorism, and abject poverty. It was crowded, loud, and disorganized. The noise made it difficult to sleep. My first morning, I was awakened at 5am by a man near my window chanting Muslim prayers.
We had planned a retreat for the European missionaries, but God’s providence had put us in the very center of the mission field. So many families—men, women, and children—with no certain future, and so few prospects for a better life. It was just a small microcosm of a near-immeasurable greater whole. I was reminded of Matthew 9:36-38, “Seeing the people, He felt compassion for them, because they were distressed and dispirited like sheep without a shepherd. Then He said to His disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Therefore beseech the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His harvest.’”
The world is so needy and there are so few laborers. Knowing that it is God’s will to send out a strong and adequate labor force, the blame for the lack of workers must fall on us. This is understandable since a great deal of preaching today is directed toward the twisting of God’s promises in order to coax selfish people into the Kingdom and to keep them there. True gospel preaching will result in genuine conversions, biblical discipleship, and a passion for the Great Commission and the souls of men. We must never forget that the lack of gospel preachers on the mission field is the result of a lack of gospel preaching at home!
On Sunday, we attended “La Iglesia Evangelica de la Gracia” (Evangelical Church of Grace) where David Barceló and Jairo Chaur are elders. This is one of the main churches in Spain with which HeartCry is partnering to train and send out missionaries. HeartCry’s newest missionary couple—Igor and Eliane Dias—are laboring in this church. The Sunday morning service was very reverent and God-honoring. Brother Igor preached his first sermon in the church since his arrival. It was a powerful reminder of God’s faithfulness and our need to press on!
On Sunday evening, I spoke in my first real public meeting since my heart attack. It was a two and a half hour question and answer session (in Spanish) with forty pastors from throughout Spain. God really seemed to help even though speaking in another language. The questions were primarily about preaching, pastoring, and evangelism. I was very encouraged to see that many pastors have grown tired of all the unbiblical and pragmatic church planting and church growth strategies that have come from the United States. As a result they are returning to the simplicity of the Scriptures!
On Monday, we visited with pastors and missionaries and took a tour of Barcelona. It is a very beautiful city by the sea and is replete with history and culture. Nevertheless, as a believer, there is sadness in my heart to know that the great majority of man’s achievements in art, culture, science, etc. was not motivate by a love for God or accomplished for His glory. This was powerfully exemplified in the huge stadiums that were built for the 1992 Summer Olympics. Nearly thirty years later they remain a monument to the achievements of man without the least mention of the God whose common grace gives man his mind and strength. Another example is the architectural wonder “La Iglesia de La Sagrada Familia” designed by the legendary architect Antoni Gaudí. At first glance, I could not believe my own eyes—the immensity intricacy, and lighting are breathtaking. A trained eye could spend a lifetime gazing upon a single aspect of the structure! And yet, we must ask, “Was it built for the glory of God or man?” And if the intention was to glorify God, was it according to His will as it is revealed in the Scriptures? Did the builder seek to “earn” salvation from his work? Or did he labor as a result of a salvation that he had received by grace through faith? Are the sellout crowds that tour the church marveling at the structure or marveling at the grace of God that is given even to unbelieving men so that they might rise above the beasts and create beauty?
Our HeartCry missions conference was held Tuesday through Thursday. HeartCry missionaries gathered from all across Europe: Finland, Sweden, Switzerland, France, Germany, Scotland, Romania, Spain, and Italy. It was very encouraging to hear how the Lord is working even in countries that boast of their post-Christian view of the world.
It would be difficult for those who live in the United States and South America to understand the hostility of European governments towards the gospel of Jesus Christ and those churches that seek to walk according to the Scriptures. And yet, God is faithful, to not only maintain His people, but also to grant them growth both spiritually and numerically. I have lived in the United States and Peru, and have traveled around the world. I can say with confidence that there is more light of the gospel in the jungles of the world than in the very churches of Europe where some of the greatest preachers in the history of Christianity once preached. What a judgment has fallen! What a great need of revival! What a great time for intercession and the bold proclamation of the gospel!
I taught eight different sessions at the conference. Each message lasted approximately two hours. The primary themes were: (1) What is a missionary? (2) What is missions?; (3) What are the biblical qualifications of a minister of Christ; (4) The devotional life of a minister of Christ; (5) The Regulative vs the Normative Principle in our stewardship of Christ’s church. The great emphasis in each message was our need to cut ourselves off from the arm of the flesh (man’s wisdom and power) and give ourselves wholly to the arm of God (the power of God and the wisdom of God as it is revealed in the Scriptures). Even among those who believe that the Scriptures are the inspired, inerrant, and infallible Word of God there is a great danger of falling into pragmatism—of doing what is right in our own eyes (Deuteronomy 12:8; Judges 17:6; 21:25) and of trusting in the arm of the flesh (II Chronicles 32:8; Jeremiah 17:5). We must understand that the Great Protestant Reformation was not primarily about a Calvinistic soteriology, but about “Sola Scriptura” (Scripture Alone). The true test of being “Reformed” is the conviction that we must submit every aspect of faith and practice to commands and wisdom of the Scriptures. We are not called be cleaver or inventive, but to submit to what is written!
On returning from the conference, my mind and body were extremely tired (more than usual), but my soul was full. My elders, my doctors, and most importantly, my wife have approved travel on a limited scale. As of yet, I have nothing more scheduled, but am in prayer for the Lord’s guidance. Please continue to pray for me. My prayer is not only to be faithful but to cross the finish line at a faster pace than when I left the starting blocks!