What We Believe

Reflections on the Goodness of Our Lord

Mark T. Bube

In what has come to be known as the Great Commission, our Savior, shortly before he returned to the Father in heaven, commanded his apostles—and through them, his church—to go, make disciples, baptize, and teach. And to this very day, churches that would be faithful to observe all that he had >commanded us, send missionaries to the nations to establish his worship (planting churches in which his people are discipled, baptized, and taught) and to cast the net—to go—to bring the lost into that worship.

Following the pattern of Scripture, these young church plants on the mission field, by his grace, grow in their whole-hearted embrace of the system of doctrine that is taught in the Scripture and reflected in our Reformed confessions. And over time, we see them also grow in their ability to provide for their own needs and for those of the poor around them; to govern themselves according to the biblical pattern, as the Lord provides sound and godly ministers, elders, and deacons; and, in turn, to continue the process of carrying out that Great Commission to the next village and then to another halfway around the world. This is a process that usually takes some time—often it’s multi-generational—and that requires much patience, self-restraint, and waiting upon the Lord, and always with our eyes fixed upon Christ. And yet how truly delightful it is to serve a glorious Lord who continues to work powerfully and supernaturally every day of our lives.

An Adventure in Grace

For the past thirty-one years, as general secretary of the Committee on Foreign Missions, it has been a joy and a privilege—an “adventure in grace,” if you will—to see with my own eyes the wonders of his hand at work through the labors of your missionaries as they, by the power of the Holy Spirit, press on faithfully to gather and build his church in faraway corners of the globe. And as his Word has been earnestly and lovingly proclaimed in distant lands to thousands who are otherwise perishing in their sins, time and again we’ve witnessed his Spirit apply that Word to the hearts of his precious ones to cause them to repent of their sins and to flee in faith to our Savior—each case of which is a supernatural work!

Have you ever seen the look in someone’s face when it first begins to dawn on him or her that there might be forgiveness for sins? We are all sinners, and (apart from Christ) we all carry the terrible burden of our sins around with us every day. Christ tells us in his Word that all people who have ever lived know that there is a God to whom they will one day have to give an answer, but that they suppress that knowledge, exchanging truth for a lie, to pursue their own sinful desires. But we all also know that (unless Christ comes first!) we’re going to die.

And then one day someone, perhaps even a strange foreigner from a different culture, comes and opens up the gospel, and the Spirit gives ears to hear, and they comprehend for the first time that there is repentance and forgiveness for sin in Jesus Christ—and that they safely can flee in faith to Christ and know that he will never turn them away. And warming in their faces is a wonderful peace, some tears of joy, and a keen anticipation of delighting in their newly found Savior.

Ministry to Image-Bearers

In his Word, Christ teaches me to view each person that he brings across my path as his image-bearer, no matter how different all our externalities—language, ethnicity, economic or cultural situations—might be. And not only as a fellow image-bearer, but since Christ has with his blood purchased for God men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation, I need to consider that this one who he is bringing into my life just now might also be one of those precious ones for whom he died—and I need to love this one, just as my Savior has loved me.

As part of our ministry of mercy in the name of Christ, our missionaries have been involved in the operation of three different medical facilities in three different nations over the past thirty years, all in a region of the world where, if one went to a typical government (or secular) medical facility, the doctors (if they were present at all) would probably be drunk and the necessary medicines or drugs would long ago all have been pilfered and sold on the black market; and worst of all, you would be treated like an animal.

One of the first things that would stand out to an incoming patient arriving at any of the three medical works through which the Lord gave us the privilege to minister mercy was that, when someone entered the gate, they were treated with the respect and dignity that befits an image-bearer, as someone who had intrinsic value because they are made in God’s image. This is part of our testimony and might be one of the reasons that patients and their families will walk for hours, often bypassing other clinics, to come to us for treatment.

In the ordinary course of events, maybe it will please the Lord to use the ministrations of our missionaries and the local medical staffs they have trained to treat the malady that brought the patient to the clinic with success. Or maybe not, for maybe they waited too long to come, or the necessary medications just weren’t available to us—but we still have time to pray with them and carry their needs to the throne of grace, and to show them the compassion of Jesus.

Learning in Humility

Meeting brothers and sisters in Christ among those to whom we minister on our mission fields has been such a blessing. In Christ our hearts are already knit closer together than they will ever be with our own blood relatives who do not know Christ. The shared joy that is ours in the use of the ordinary means of grace together, especially in the context of gathering for worship, is a foretaste of the sweet fellowship that will be ours with them around the throne forever. And we have so much to learn from one another.

I remember years ago sharing a meal with a brother who had been imprisoned multiple times for Christ. He had memorized sizable portions of Scripture to be prepared for the next time he would be put in prison, where no Bibles were allowed (note to self: am I anywhere near as ready?). Near the end of our time together, the brother, who is now home with Jesus, looked me straight in the eye and pointing with his finger, exclaimed, “And you know, prison is a wonderful place to share the gospel with unbelievers!” I still remember like it was just yesterday: that sense of a wave sweeping over and then melting me with the feeling that I was not worthy to be even in the same room with this valiant brother, who is a real soldier for Christ.

Another brother from the same place related to me how, for several brothers and sisters in Christ, it seemed that, on their way into prison, the Lord, in his merciful providence, would sometimes blind the fingers of the guards as they searched incoming prisoners, missing the Bibles in the prisoners’ pockets. Accounts of some of the sweetest fellowship among those united to Christ that I’ve ever encountered have occurred among those imprisoned together for the name of Christ.

It is difficult to overestimate how truly miserable mankind’s bondage to sin is, and how terrifying the thought of God’s lifting his restraining hand upon the actions of the evil one ought to be. As we look around the world, it seems that, generally speaking, the further the life of a people is removed from Christ and what his Word teaches, the crummier their daily lives are. It’s fairly easy to see the bondage to sin in the wicked and awful pagan practices of the heathen—child sacrifice, bodily mutilation, greedy impoverishment of widows and orphans, and the like—not to mention the terror of a life dominated by the fanatic and evil wiles of a witch doctor or shaman. But we also see that bondage to sin in the graceless and sometimes bloody practices of other more organized religions that know not Christ—in the superstitions of Roman Catholicism, in the false teachings of the so-called prosperity gospel, and in the overwhelming meaninglessness of our modern secular culture that denies there can be anything called “truth.”

Yet in every place, Christ is at work, redeeming men and women and boys and girls for himself. As we seek to be useful to our Savior in our engagement with the unbelieving world, we are reminded that we need to be always ready to give an answer for the hope that is in us, and to do so with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience.

I remember one of our missionaries being put under a blood curse by a much-feared witch doctor while preaching one night to an assembled crowd numbering in the hundreds. The following night hundreds more turned out to watch him drop dead. He didn’t, and the light of the gospel of Jesus Christ shone brightly into the community that night.

Another one of our missionaries, who labored among a people that loved riddles, engaged some of the older men gathered under a tree while he was walking between villages. The question that he put to them that day was: “How is it that, if you are born once, you die twice, but if you are born twice, you die only once?” Can you solve the riddle?

Seasons of Ministry

As many who have been involved in Christian ministry for any length of time have probably experienced firsthand, it sometimes pleases the Lord—the One who opens doors that no one can shut, and closes doors that no one can open—to grant to his servants in his gracious providence, certain sweet spots or seasons in their labors during which the Spirit especially seems to be moving across the land and there is much fruit being gathered in. Those are the times, when at the end of the day, although we are tired and dirty and maybe hungry, our hearts are overflowing with joy and gratitude at the goodness of our God. We rejoice in seeing his power made manifest in our weakness, and we delight in Christ.

We also know that, when the work seems to be going well, and it looks like we’re making real inroads to his domain, Satan will push back. Hard. Trusted workers will betray us or fall into serious sin. The sin of pride is always lurking at our door. We have to remind ourselves over and over again that our work, even a fruitful missionary enterprise that he is richly blessing in the moment, is ultimately never about us: it’s always about Jesus Christ and him alone. For it is Christ who leads us in that triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the kn>owledge of him everywhere.

The psalmist reminds us that our days are like grass; we flourish briefly like a flower in the field and then we are gone. The famous missionary apostle opened his heart to a much-troubled church plant in Corinth, whom he nevertheless dearly loved, declaring, “I will most gladly spend and be spent for your souls” (2 Cor. 12:15). Brothers and sisters, this is what we are doing today, and my desire all these years has been that it would please our Lord to grant our missionaries much joy in their labors unto Christ, even as we ourselves are being spent. For together we confess our sure hope that we shall indeed look upon the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. To God be the glory!

The author has been general secretary of the Committee on Foreign Missions since 1991. New Horizons, June 2022.

New Horizons: June 2022

Reflections on the Goodness of Our Lord

Also in this issue

Seven Years of Ministry in Montevideo

Augustine’s Short Prayers in His Confessions

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