Prepare for Persecution?

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“ Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours.” Jn 15:20. (ESV)

Is the American Church ready for persecution? Some people scoff at the idea Christians will see persecution. Some say persecution will never come. We have the Constitution to protect us. There is no way our rights can be violated.

Recent history has shown us the gap that is between this world’s religion and our own faith, Christianity. Several cases have come up that have pitted Christian faith against the laws of this land. And many times the cases have gone through the courts siding on the side of the law and special interest groups against the religious freedom of the defenders. It wasn’t until the case went to the Supreme Court did we see some respite.

The Gospel Coalition has an article that comes out of Australia. The events there are not dissimilar to our own. Campbell Markham argues, in light of certain people losing their jobs over their faith and their beliefs regarding marriage, the church needs to prepare itself for more persecution. He is calling all churches in Australia to prepare their people for persecution. I’d suggest you read the whole article. It paints a picture not only of the grim reality we live in but also of the glory of keeping the faith even during trials and persecution.

I expect, within the remainder of my lifetime, that Christians will be legally restricted in their ability to speak out and live out their faith in the public sphere. ~ Campbell Markham pastors Cornerstone Presbyterian Church in Hobart.

Even though Markham is speaking to Australia specifically, I think he speaks to all the Church in the West. We’ve not seen the persecution that the Church has endured in its history. The promise of Jesus is we will see persecution. We in the West have been blessed not to see what our forefathers witnessed and endured.

Will this blessing turn into a curse? Will we bend to the will of our state, our tormentors, when they demand we turn away from our faith, the teaching of our Lord? Will we endure losing our jobs for our faith? Our homes? Our church buildings?

Could Denominations Be A Good Thing?

“For the body does not consist of one member but of many.” 1 Co 12:14 (ESV)

Kenneth Samples at Reasons to Believe has a five-part article answering the skeptic’s question, “Why should I seriously consider Christian truth-claims when Christendom is so deeply divided?”

Our disunity is an embarrassment. It hinders our witness and does not completely represent the image of Jesus Christ. Because of this some will complain and criticize denominations. They have gotten a bad rap through the years. But could there be a good side to denominations? Samples gives us positive reasons for denominations: the fullness of the faith, critique, and protest.

“Fullness of the Faith”

We are fallen human beings. Our thoughts and desires are mired by sin. We are not perfect, therefore, our thinking, our theology, and our interpretation of the Bible are imperfect. This is why we have many denominations. But the positive side to this is with all the churches together we get a more full view of the faith. Where one denomination is lacking the other will fill in. Because we all are different, together, our diversity shows the whole picture of Jesus Christ that no one denomination can full show.

“Diversity Can Provide a Needed Corrective”

Because we are imperfect we need the diversity of the body of Christ in order to give correction when needed. I’ve often seen the blogosphere be ignited in a firestorm over certain issues. There are many voices and several good arguments. They buffet and correct each other. The key in this is humility and the patience to hear correction. By having multiple denominations and traditions we can discuss, challenge, and perhaps even shape each other closer to the image of Jesus Christ.

“Principled Protest Has Its Place”

There are times with denominations do go well outside the realm of orthodox Christianity. When a denomination changes its creed, teaches a different gospel, or denounces essential elements of the faith, they have fallen away. This leaves many faithful people within that denomination no choice but to splinter off. They are separating in protest. Much like the Protestant Reformation, when the doctrines of the faith are lost, we need to seek our reformation, and maybe even separation.

In spite of our differences, we can still be united in the essentials. We can come together, work together, and grow each other in the faith.

Unity By The Spirit

“I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” Eph. 4:1-3

Are you “eager to maintain the unity fo the Spirit”?

We all need to ask ourselves this question. I’ve always heard unity preached through the years. But I wonder if we really want unity in the Church. Do we really want unity with those brothers and sisters we disagree with?

I want to note the translators of the ESV version chose to capitalize the word “Spirit” in verse 3. Most every modern Bible translations follows suit. In other words, verse 3 is referring to the Holy Spirit. This means, the unity of the Church is brought and worked out by the Holy Spirit.

What makes this interesting is the fact many churches are divided when it comes to the Holy Spirit and his work today. How is it that the very means of unity of the Church now has become the means of division?

A recent article on The Exchange speaks of a time after WWII where there was an explosion of missionary agencies that brought together different traditions in hopes of reaching the lost in our world. This brought together Charismatics with Cessationist in efforts to reach the world.

“Mission agencies of all kinds became new voices – InterVarsity, the Navigators, Youth for Christ, Young Life, and Campus Crusade, to name a few – bringing young people together in new kinds of missions and understandings. This generated inter-church activity, mixing those from Pentecostal and non-Pentecostal communities, breaking down walls.” – Brian Stiller

The Holy Spirit brought together people hungry to see lost people saved. Because of their faithfulness God moved in a huge way. A way that many said did not happen and could not happen. People’s doctrines were shook up.

“Into that mix came missionaries returning home and giving accounts of healings, deliverance from demonic oppression and miracles, this often to churches that assumed such manifestations had ceased. Deeply divided churches were about to discover what they had in common.” – Brian Stiller

What they had in common was the power and the work of the Holy Spirit in the world.

It is said, there are no atheist in foxholes. In other words, in the midst of war, in the trenches where the battle is most fierce, everyone begins to pray. When it seems all is lost many being to pray to the god they don’t believe in.

It is the same in the mission field: there are no Cessationists in the front lines of the mission field. In the mission field you will find out you are praying healing and miracles. When faced with a real enemy you will be praying to cast out demons. You’ll want to see God move in a miraculous and supernatural way. In the mission field there are no Charismatics or Cessationists. There are only people of God living out the kingdom in a powerful way.

Paul tells us humility, gentleness, and patience, as we all strive towards unity.

Are you eager for the unity of the Spirit?

Religious? You’ll Probably Live Longer

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Ohio State University has conducted a study of obituaries nationwide. The obituaries gives us a unique insight into a persons life and their lifespan.
Obituaries usually have the age of the person, the size and extent of their families, what they were known for, hobbies, and religious affiliations.

What they found was interesting. They found that religious affiliation gives a person an extra four-year boost in life. On average, a person who is involved religiously lived 4 years longer than someone who did not.

“The study provides persuasive evidence that there is a relationship between religious participation and how long a person lives,” ~ Baldwin Way, associate professor of psychology at Ohio State.

Let’s not be too hasty to wave the, “See, Christianity is right!” flag. There were other religions in this study that had the same life extension.
Except for snake-handling churches for some reason.
What we can learn from this study is the necessity to continue to work in unity and in a community. Coupled with religious norms that promote a healthier lifestyle (avoidance of drunkenness, drugs, and promiscuous sex) and stress-reliving practices (prayer, meditation, fasting) there is a communal aspect that is also a factor.

“Many studies have shown that people who volunteer and participate in social groups tend to live longer than others.”
Though, those who ONLY volunteer and participate in social groups did not live as long as those who were religious. Nonetheless, it is an aspect of religion we should not neglect.

When we come together as a Church we are doing more than doing our duty. We are actually helping each other live longer. By encouraging one another, building each other up, comforting those who are hurting, helping those in need. This is why the writer of Hebrews tells us not to forsake coming together. It’s not to keep the pews full. It is so that we all can benefit from each other.

Individual Spirituality

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I read an interesting article in the LA Times a few weeks ago. The headline: “Religiously unaffiliated ‘nones’ are pursuing spirituality, but not community.

The category of “nones,” those who check the “none” box when asked what religion they are, has increased from 10% in the 80s to over 23% today. It is the Millennial generation that is the driving force for this increase recently.
However, it is not that they are not religious. They are very spiritual in their thoughts and actions. Contrary to the sexy secular utopia promised by the New Atheist of the last decade, the “nones” are turning to other forms of mysticism and spirituality.

“Rather, they are turning toward more individual forms of spiritualism, including yoga, meditation, healing stones, Wiccan spell casting and astrology.”

The individualism is reaching its peak in our culture. Religion and spirituality is no different. Picking your own beliefs, your own truths leaves you free from the judgments from others. It lets you be you, no matter how greedy or envious you are. There is no need to change because you are OK just the way you are.

When people look at the Church, they see judgmental, oppressive, and controlling entity that is a huge kill-joy. What they don’t see is the love, the compassion, and the family that can be found in Jesus Christ.

The challenge of the Church today is to show the love that God has for his people. The way in which that love is shown is how the Body of Christ loves each other. Several places in the Bible the unity of the people of God is a witness to God’s work and God’s love. When we are united we show the true image of Christ on earth.

As long as we continue down the road of disunity we will continue to push away those who need God the most.

Church Unity Is More Important Than ‘Being Theologically Correct’?

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“Father…I do not pray just for these disciples only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word. I pray that they all may be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be one with us. This way the world may believe that you have sent me.” ~ Jesus (John 17:20-21 Paraphrase)

The Christan Post came out with an article quoting Andy Stanley, “Church Unity Is More Important Than ‘Being Theologically Correct.‘” Using the verse from John 17 where Jesus prays his disciples would be one, as he and the Father are one, so that they may one together.
Stanley said it is significant Jesus prayed for unity for his disciple above other things, for example, being theologically correct. But I am wondering if Andy Stanley has read the previous verses where Jesus prays, “Sanctify them in your truth…” I think Andy Stanley massively downplays having the right doctrine here. Each church needs to strive for the right teaching of Jesus and to continuously reform to achieve it. Even though I thinking Stanley goes a little too far, I do understand his sentiment.
What usually divides us is not the core of the faith. It is usually peripheral doctrines concerning baptism, communion, the work of the Holy Spirit…etc. Others are divided by worship styles, liturgy, and style of preaching.
I am not saying we shouldn’t have diverse practices or even diverse beliefs. What I am saying, is, these should not divide us when it comes to our mission in this world.
Notice Jesus’ prayer. He says in essence, “Father, I pray my disciples will be united in us so that the world may see and believe in me.” In other words, our unity should be a sign to the world of Jesus’ ministry and kingdom on earth.
I’ve often heard from skeptics about the plethora of churches that exist in our culture. Which one is right? Who is wrong? Why does this church belittle that church? Why are Christians always fighting?
Our disunity has damaged the image of Jesus in our churches. When we no longer live out the unity that is found within the Godhead, we no longer bear the image of that Godhead. Our witness falls apart.
My suggestion for churches that differ in the secondary doctrines of the faith, that we agree to disagree, charitably, and work together to rebuild the image of the unity God in our communities.

Praying in Unity

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“After Peter and John had been set free they went to their fellowship and told them what the chief priests and the Jewish elders had said to them. All who heard their story were moved, and in one mind prayed together…When they had finished, the place where they were together was shaken. They were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and began to tell God’s message fearlessly.” Acts 4:23-24, 31 (paraphrase)

Peter and John were arrested by the Jewish religious leaders. God had done a miracle through them in healing a lame man. All the people who saw were amazed and were eager to know how this could happen. Peter and John went on to preach Jesus Christ, who not only has the power to heal but to save. They were arrested for preaching Jesus Christ. Finding no way to keep them or punish them due to the public miracle they let them go.

After hearing the story the people, having one mind, began to pray. They praised God for his works, they prayed the Scriptures, they prayed about their situation, and they prayed for boldness to preach the message of the gospel, and the power to heal with signs and wonders.

We read the books of Acts in one of two ways. Either we read the book of Acts as history seeing all that God had done in the past through the apostles and disciples. We see all that happened as being in the past and “not for today.” The book of Acts is only information about what happened and not a mirror to compare our lives, or our churches, to. As a consequence, many churches remain dead and powerless.

Another way we read the book of Acts is with a longing for God to work like he did before. We sit in our pews and wonder why God is not moving like he did in the book of Acts. Why people aren’t being saved. Why we see no miracles, signs and wonders. Why we remain in disunity, faithless, and powerless. Why are our churches empty. The consequence of being “pew sitters” is the same as reading the book of Acts as history: dead and powerless churches.

Our acts don’t match the acts of the disciples in the book of Acts.
Peyton Jones said, “If we want to witness kingdom expansion like the apostles did, it’s not enough to know what they knew. We need to do what they did.” [1]

From our passage today we see a glimpse of what the disciples of the early Church did: they prayed.

Not just any type of praying, but, praying together in unity. The Scripture says, “they lifted their voices together to God…” (ESV). They prayed with one heart, one focus, and one mission. They wanted the power of God in their church, not for protection, but for power and boldness to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ. This is the act, the first act, any church, or group of churches, should take in winning their community to God.

When the Church comes together in unity there is power in our prayer. Jesus promises his presence, especially when we are gathered together in his name. And when we pray as one, we shake the community, and we become bold to speak his message fearlessly.

[1] Peyton Jones, Reaching the Unreached Becoming Raiders of the Lost Art, (Zondrvan, 2017) pg. 23

A Solemn Assembly is Needed…

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Recently, a pastor friend of mine gave me a document called, “A Solemn Assembly is Needed…”. It was a list of conditions, or symptoms, of a local church that when observed, a solemn assembly of repentance and renewal needs to be called.

Inspired by such a list I’ve adapted my own for the local Christian community. These symptoms point to the need for a community-wide solemn assembly. Read this list and see if you can relate to some of this symptoms. I know I do.

A Community Solemn Assembly is Needed…

  • When we find ourselves walking by sight instead of walking by faith
  • When prayer is the last resort instead of the foundation of our community
  • When events for evangelism are preferred over one-on-one evangelism
  • When our passion to build the biggest church overshadows our passion and pursuit of God’s kingdom in the community
  • When the ministry of God in our community does not include the poor, the widows, and the fatherless
  • When there is a greater emphasis on pleasing people, looking good in the community, and having the greatest influence, than pleasing God
  • When we find ourselves being more excited about building our own church than the health of our community
  • When the pastors of our churches do all the evangelism and discipleship in our community while our people spectate from their chairs
  • When we seem to be producing “converts” instead of “disciples” in our community
  • When growing our attendance is more important than the spiritual health of the community, and the spiritual health of other churches
  • When most growth in churches today is transfer growth
  • When there is disunity among the churches or ministries in the community
  • When there is no community vision, and no cooperation to see that vision through
  • When we see the other churches as competition, instead of partners in the kingdom of God
  • When each church exists as an isolated island unto itself, and we work within the community as if we are the only church

Which symptoms resonated with you? What would you add to the list?

Have This Mind

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus… Php 2:3–5

I believe the key to the Christian life is found within the incarnation of Jesus Christ. Only when the divine is one with man can man even to think to achieve the abundant life that Jesus promised us.

But, this is not a means to boast, being one with the divine. But, it is a means of humility.

Jesus himself, who is one with the Father, united in substance and holiness, did not count his greatness with God has something to keep. Rather, he humbled himself in obedience.

And Paul tells us to have this same mind.

Pastors teach from these verses exhorting their people not to seek their own glory, their own welfare, above anyone else. As Christians, we are too out not only for our own welfare but also the welfare of others.

It is good that pastors teach these Scriptures, they should be taught more often. However, how pastors usually preach (I am guilty of this myself) is to preach service to those in our immediate local fellowship right along with the world that is lost.

In other words, we preach as if we are the only church in our community – we preach as if we are a monochurch.

But our own fellowship is not the only church in our own community. There are other churches, co-churches for the kingdom of God.

We teach each person represents Christ in the world. The Bible also teaches that the church represents Christ in the world too. Just as multiple individuals represent Christ, so too can multiply churches represent Christ.

Each church is to have the mind of Christ! And what is that mind? Paul tells us here in Philippians.

Do nothing from a selfish ambition. What is the ambition of your church? Do you want the largest church in the city? Do you build it at the expense of other local churches through transfer growth?

Do nothing from conceit. Do you speak ill of other pastors, other churches? Do you live within the idea your church is the only church? The only church worth serving the community? Do you use other churches and community events as a means to build your own church? Your own kingdom?

Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Let each church look not only to their own interests, but also the interests of other churches. Some would say this is impossible. You are right. But with God, all things are possible.

In order for churches to live the divine, incarnation life that Jesus Christ has called us to be, we must look to each other, serve each other, in humility and respect.

Two Heads Are Better Than One

“Without counsel plans fail, but with many advisers they succeed.” Proverbs 15:22

The old adage, “two heads are better than one,” is true in most situations. Unless you’re trying to decide what restaurant to go to. But in ministry, this truth runs the whole of Scripture.

God said that it was not good for Adam to be alone.

Moses sought out leaders from the people to help him judge the people of Israel.

The kings of Israel would surround themselves with “wise men.”

Jesus sent out the disciples two-by-two.

Paul never worked alone. And when he was alone he didn’t want to be.

You can see over and over again, in Scripture and history having many advisors often leads to success.

So, let’s take a look at the current monochurch culture that we live in. We have many different churches, with many different types of services, with many different types of organization, leadership styles, and administrations, big churches, small churches, different worship styles…etc.

We live in a culture where you can find any church that will suit your style. You can find whatever flavour you want. The consumer-driven culture as gave us cool churches, cooler churches, and the coolest church to choose from.

And yet, much of the population remains unchurched, unreached, and not interested.

If the church is to succeed, maybe we should look to Scripture (Pr. 22:15). Maybe, the “two heads are better than one” adage can be used to succeed in reaching the lost in our communities. If we put our collective heads together, with our years of experience in ministry, it is possible we could reach our communities with the gospel more effectively.

A multichurch culture brings together multiple perspectives about how to meet needs, reach goals, and solve problems. A multichurch provides alternative views that can be more insightful, and deeper than a monochurch culture offers.