I continue to be amazed at the means by which Jesus draws his lost sheep to himself.
We have been getting to know a young believing couple. The wife is from our city and the husband of the same people group, but from the country next door. They came over last night and combined a family visit with some crucial help for me. Every time I teach or preach in the local language, I try to follow a pretty laborious method of preparation. I’ve learned the payoff in terms of clarity and language growth is worth it in spite of how time-intensive this method is. First, I study the text. Second, I write out an English manuscript. Third, I translate that manuscript on my own into own best attempt of the local language. Fourth, I invite a local believer to walk through my local language manuscript with me to iron out the different grammar mistakes and to help me achieve more indigenous phrasing. Fifth, I review the local language manuscript multiple times so that come time to teach, I’m not overly tied to it and have some freedom for spontaneous elaboration. I’m still not as free as I’d like to be when I teach in the local language, but I try to be as clear as possible.
I can’t overstate how helpful step four has been for me, reviewing my local language manuscript with local brothers. And how kind God has been to provide someone for me every single time I have taught over the last several years. Sometimes it’s come down to the wire, but God has always provided me with this kind help. The feedback has at times been hilarious (“Did you mean to say salvation donkey?”) and at other times saved me from very embarrassing mistakes (“Yeah, that’s a sexual innuendo here, please change that sentence!”). My new friend was gracious to come by last night and provide this crucial service for me and for the group of believers I’ll be teaching Christmas night. My hope in this lesson is to encourage them that just as the presence of God as Immanuel came into this world unconditionally, in the same way the presence of God remains with us believers unconditionally. It’s too easy for us believers, after being saved by grace, to think that we now must earn God’s presence and love through our good performance. And this keeps us from healing and growth and change as we pretend that we must be worthy of God’s favor by working on our sin enough or by ignoring our own brokenness. On the contrary, it is his unconditional presence with us that enables us to heal, to change, and to grow.
But I digress. The main point of this post is to share one of the more unusual ways that I’ve heard of the Spirit drawing someone to himself. Namely, by using a Satanist. My friend who helped me with my lesson was drafted into the military as a young man. Previously, he had had some religious questions. But as usual, the mullahs discouraged him from asking the hard questions of Islam. He was then placed in a military unit where his bunk-mate was a former Muslim and now practicing Satanist. Though a bit alarmed at this kind of roommate, my friend’s curiosity was piqued. Here was someone who had asked lots of hard questions and had left the religion of his birth to follow a very different path. This particular Satanist proved to be very knowledgeable in comparative religion and was the first person who explained many biblical truths and stories to my friend. But he had a particular vehement hatred of Christianity and wore an upside down cross necklace.
One day my friend asked him why he hated Christianity so much when he had grown up in Islam and had abandoned that religion. Wouldn’t it be most natural to hate the religion which you yourself rejected, not a religion of foreigners? After all, Islam claims to be an Abrahamic religion in the same line as Judaism and Christianity. His answer disturbed my friend deeply.
“We don’t worry about Islam because it’s just another religion invented by men. We hate Christianity because Jesus Christ and his power are real and he is our true enemy.”
This led to many conversations where this man was able to convincingly demonstrate his claim that Islam was just another man-made religion. Though my friend didn’t become a believer for a number of years more, he was deeply impacted by these conversations with his Satanist roommate. It gave him a deep hunger to find a Bible for himself and read it. But the fact that it was illegal made finding one quite a challenge. You can’t just go around casually asking store keepers if they are selling contraband. That’s a good way to get an appointment with the secret police. He finally found a Bible and got in contact with some local believers here in our country, coming to faith about a year and a half ago.
As I reflect on his story, I see once again how resourceful and creative the Spirit is in what he uses to draw Jesus’ lost sheep. One of my friends was deeply impacted by watching a cartoon version of Les Miserables as a child. It was the Muslim dictator’s favorite novel, so he approved some TV versions. Another saw the Jesus film on television, which a local political party was airing as a thank you for the support of the ethnic Christian minority. Yet another friend stumbled on K-Love Christian radio online and was first wowed by their production quality, and then eventually began to be moved by the message of the songs. Others even had bible-verse quoting Jesus action figures as part of their story. But a Satanist? What a strange and powerful demonstration of the Spirit’s power to use anything as part of his call. Totally sovereign. What a source of hope for those searching for Jesus’ sheep in a very broken world.
And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. (John 10:16 ESV)