A Good Place to Get Stuck: Reflections from the 10-year Anniversary of RAK Evangelical Church
It’s usually not a good thing to get stuck, especially when you go off-roading in the deserts of Ras Al Khaimah. I was the lucky companion of three other Reaching & Teaching members. Our plan was to stargaze far from civilization. Instead, we got stuck in the sand and so we dug and pushed—all within earshot of Arabic Techno music and the bright lights of a Bedouin tourist attraction. (So much for stargazing in silence.)
It’s usually not a good thing to get stuck—unless you get stuck in the gospel.
Stuck in the Gospel
I recently gathered with Reaching & Teaching staff and international church pastors from around the world for a ten-year celebration of RAK Evangelical Church. For those who don’t know the remarkable story of RAK Evangelical Church, land was granted by his Highness Sheikh Saud bin Saqr Al Qasimi for what would become an embassy of Christ’s kingdom and a hub for evangelical ministry throughout the region.
We hosted a conference to mark the anniversary. You might have expected our time to emphasize church-centered missions—and praise God, there was plenty of that. But more than that, we were stuck talking about the gospel. Stuck with a we-ain’t-going-anywhere kind of stuck.
Church planter and Senior Pastor, Josh Manley, could have opened the evening’s celebration by talking about the church. Instead, he popped the cork with, “The gospel is glorious!” After several testimonies from church partners and pastoral interns, guest preacher Greg Gilbert began to teach—not on his book What is the Mission of the Church? but What is the Gospel? and Who is Jesus? Greg joked with Josh, “Why ask me to teach on the gospel? Haven’t you been teaching this for ten years?” Later, he changed his tune: “What better way to celebrate 10 years than to revel in the gospel? There is nothing better we can do than go back to the basics.”
Stuck in the gospel. From Josh Manley to Greg Gilbert, from Aaron Menikoff to John Folmar, whether the conference on church-centered missions or the celebration of RAK Evangelical Church, the message remained the same:
Run to the cross, rest in Jesus, have unshakeable confidence in the gospel. Meditate not on how good your ministry is but on how good God is. Lead your church to the cross. Stay faithful to the gospel, grow in the gospel. The gospel will not fail. Remember what God has done and who he is and bow your head in humility, awe, and worship. Be so overcome by the grandeur of the gospel that you erupt in praise.
I don’t know where your heart or ministry is headed right now, but my takeaway from Ras Al Khaimah is this: Drive everything deep into the gospel and get permanently stuck.
Stuck in the Desert
It’s a good thing to get stuck in the gospel. It can also be a good thing to get stuck in a desert. (Take it from someone who got stuck in one.) The reason comes from something Greg Gilbert said in his Sunday sermon in Ras Al Khaimah:
“Things delight and excite us when they are bigger than us and we can’t fully grasp it. That is why God is an inexhaustible source of delight. The end of theology is not to grasp God and pin him down but to worship. To reach another peak and realize how much you don’t know. And this brings delight.”
Greg was preaching from Romans 11:33–36, but deserts will do it for you, too. You rev your engine and speed up a dune. You barely make it over the peak only to rush down the other side and get ready for the next rise. You bog down and battle against an ocean of sand. Dune after dune, as far as the eye can see. Something bigger than you, something you can’t fully grasp—and it brings delight. Deserts are desolate, deadly. But they can also shock a soul back to life.
Friend, when was the last time you drove your soul into the gospel like you were driving into something bigger than yourself? Something like the weight of immeasurable sand dunes. Or has the gospel dwindled in your heart to the point that it no longer thrills? Something like dust on a bookshelf.
It is possible for Christians—even those who cross continents to persuade others of the gospel—to lose sight of the gospel’s glory and forfeit delight. If I were Josh Manley, who has labored alongside others for ten hard years to plant and strengthen RAK Evangelical Church, would I have opened an anniversary celebration with “The gospel is glorious”? Would you?
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