With the continuing wars in Ukraine and Israel, political unrest, and a seemingly endless supply of reminders that we live in a fallen, broken world, it’s understandable that many have begun to wonder more openly if we are living in the end times. But while those questions are worth asking, we shouldn’t let them distract us from the fact that God is still moving in ways that often resemble Acts far more than Revelation.
I needed that reminder this week and found it in a recent profile of pastor Somphon Sriwichai’s work in Thailand.
Sriwichai’s story starts when, as a baby, he got sick and both the local shaman and traditional healers failed to help him get better. In desperation, his father took him to a Buddhist temple and made a vow to the statue of Buddha that if his child was healed, he would dedicate him to the temple’s service. Sriwichai began to get better shortly thereafter and, when he turned eight, went to live at the temple, later joining as a novice monk.
Life as a novice was difficult for a child, however, and when he turned nineteen Sriwichai left and moved back home with his father. Shortly thereafter, he began to hang out with criminals, drug dealers, and murderers, eventually joining one of the local gangs.
His life took a dramatic turn, however, when at twenty-nine he had an unlikely encounter with a group of local Christians.
“What kind of party is that?”
As Sriwichai describes it, “I was drinking heavily and using drugs with a friend when we heard people singing. ‘What kind of party is that?’ I asked. He answered, ‘That’s not a party, those are Christians.’ Curious, I decided to check it out.”
Sriwichai goes on to tell of how he wandered into the meeting drunk, high, and looking more like a threat than a potential convert. But despite his state, the group’s leader welcomed him in and shared the gospel with him. What struck him most was the grace and forgiveness that stood in such stark contrast to the karmic understanding of the world he’d grown up with.
As he remembers it, “I knew that, according to my own religion, I was destined to be reborn into one of the levels of hell because of the bad things I had done. I began to wonder about this grace and to hope for this forgiveness.” The leader went on to pray with him and Sriwichai “began to weep” and “sensed that my many sins had been forgiven. I had been changed but did not know what to do next.”
It was not until he came across another group of Christians three months later in Chiang Mai that the seeds of faith planted that night began to grow into a real relationship with the Lord.
Sriwichai eventually went through three months of Bible training before embarking upon a life of gospel work that more resembles those very first generations of believers nearly two thousand years ago than what most of us in the West experience today.
Whether it’s receiving visions from God that guided him to the city where he still serves, gaining credibility with the lost by praying for and healing a local shaman, or serving his community by caring for the refugees and children at risk of human trafficking, Sriwichai’s life testifies to the continued power of the gospel to transform lives and cultures today just as it did in the first century.
The entire profile is worth reading, and I encourage you to take the time to do so. But in reflecting on his story, there’s one point in particular that I’d like to focus on today.
This week we have been discussing the advent theme of hope. In a day where suicide continues to rise as one of the leading causes of death and each day brings new reasons for despair, when we respond with hope rather than anger or fear it stands out. However, for hope to work it must be more than a naïve ignorance of the world around us.
The early Christians harbored no illusions as to the depravity and difficulty they would face as they lived out the gospel in a culture that showed little interest in abiding by God’s standards. Yet they did not let that opposition rob them of the hope they found in Christ. And the same should be true for us today.
So on the days when it feels like we’re living in Revelation, choose to embrace the hope of Acts. Then approach each day with the knowledge that you have the same Holy Spirit in you that has helped believers from Paul and Peter to Somphon Sriwichai change their world with the gospel.
How can you follow their example today?
NOTE: In addition to The Daily Article, Denison Ministries produces First15, a daily devotional experience with God; Foundations with Janet, a Bible study resource for individuals and small groups; and Christian Parenting, resources to help parents raise children to know and love the Lord. These ministries are intended to work collectively to build a movement of culture-changing Christians as a catalyst for spiritual awakening and more transformation. I encourage you to try them today.