I just returned from 8 days in Athens, Greece with a team of 13 from Cityview. We served the church in Greece and refugees from around the Arab world that have migrated to Athens. In our 5 days of ministry, we talked to refugees from 10 different nations. The Lord has truly brought people from all over the Muslim world to the west as their home countries are in turmoil. I could write so many words about what we saw, heard, and felt, but I will limit myself to the top five lessons I learned. Here we go:
1- God is sovereign over the movements of people and the boundaries of the nations. He has determined where and when we are born, and He sets the course of our lives. The apostle Paul actually made this point in Acts 17:26 when he preached in Athens 2000 years ago: “From one man He has made every nationality to live over the whole earth and has determined their appointed times and the boundaries of where they live.” The Scripture says that Paul was speaking to the local Greeks “and the foreigners that had gathered there.” Not much has changed in 2000 years: God is still moving people around the world and determining the boundaries of where they live. Why? Paul tells us: “He did this so they might seek God, and perhaps they might reach out and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us.” God puts us where we are so that we might have a personal relationship with Him. To say it another way: you are not where you are by accident, and neither is your neighbor.
2- God loves Muslim people and wants them to know Him through His Son Jesus Christ. The God of Islam can be merciful and good and generous in his actions, but the God of the Bible is love in his essential nature. The Trinity (Father, Son, and Spirit) has existed in eternal self-giving, loving relationship forever, and for this reason, the Bible can say with complete integrity: God is love. (1 John 4:8) . The One True God sent His Son to live and die and rise again so that Muslim people can know Him as Father. The Bible says that Jesus died for the world. (1 John 2:2) This means that God loves people from every tribe and tongue and nation. God reminded me in the most powerful of ways last week that He loves people and desires all men, women, and children to know Him through His Son. He is a good, good Father.
3- God hurts at seeing young refugees being taken advantage of by those with money and power. The Bible says that God is a father to the fatherless (Psalm 68:5). I met the fatherless last week – those who fathers were killed or left behind in a distant land. And they were vulnerable beyond comprehension. CNN released this article while we were serving in Athens – it recounts what was happening to many of the young refugees we were ministering to. My heart broke while I was praying over these young men one day. I couldn’t process what I would if one of my sons found themselves in this helpless situation. And the Lord spoke to me in the midst of my tears, “these are my kids.” God was showing me His Father’s heart for those who are hurting and lost and brutalized by this world. He truly is a father to the fatherless. They are his kids.
4- God is mighty to save anyone who calls on His name. The power to change the human heart and bring hope from hopelessness is only found in the cross of Jesus Christ. 1 Corinthians 2:1-5 was my personal battle cry all week: asking God to demonstrate His power so that the faith of those who believed in Jesus would rest not on our influence as Americans or our creative words, but on the power of God. This was Paul’s testimony: he came to Athens and Corinth and Ephesus in weakness, not in strength. He came in humility, not in power. But God came in power! In the same way, when we ministered in Athens, we saw the power of God on display. He reveals Himself to people in dreams and visions, through miraculous circumstances, kind strangers, missionaries from other nations. His gospel, revealed by the Spirit, is the only power that can break the human heart and change the soul.
5- God answers prayer. I believe in prayer. I have always believed in prayer. But there is something unique that happens when desperate prayer is combined with intentional evangelism. The Lord moves. 17 years ago, when I did my first ministry assignment, I was scared to death. I felt completely inadequate for the work and found myself daily on my knees in prayer. I remember saying, “God, if you don’t move and show up in power, I’m sunk. This isn’t going to work.” And you know what? The Lord moved. In power. He was faithful to answer prayer. As we served in Athens last week, I again found myself in a place beyond my personal gifting, a place where I was desperate for God to move. And I wasn’t alone. Our whole team cried out to God to help us – how were the 13 of us going to connect in meaningful ways with refugees that we shared nothing in common with? The Lord heard our prayers, our countless prayers, and He answered them. Because He hears those who cry out to Him and rely on His strength.
This only scratches the surface of what I learned in Athens, but I have to stop here. As I conclude, let me leave you with this thought: God used this trip to change the lives of many people in Athens. But He also used it to change the lives of 12 people from Round Rock, Texas. Won’t you consider participating in what God is doing around the world? He is moving in power and wants you to join Him.