We are on total shutdown due to the rapid spread of the Covet-19 strain of the Coronavirus.
Each days we receive reports of the number of new cases and the increasing number of deaths due to this epidemic. We listen carefully for further instructions and notices of shutdowns. As I write this MacDonald’s has just shut everything down but their drive-thru. And so the precautions continue and proactive decisions are being made and communicated.
Meanwhile those who are approaching this worldwide situation in “panic mode” are preventing others who are taking one step at a time and remaining calm and level-headed from purchasing some of the essentials – paper towels, toilet paper, hand sanitizer, and various canned goods. Shelves are empty and line-ups are long. And the line-ups now put you in the situation of breaking the law as more than 50 people are gathered together. In my city the limit is 5. In Germany it has become 2 people.
And believers are sending out messages that are continuing to convince the rest of the world that we are close to insane. Prophetic words that do not glorify God nor encourage people and certainly do not call people to repentance and the cross (biblical purposes of the prophetic). Others are looking for the “political side” of the issue… like it is a plot against the people. I quote a message from earlier this morning… “Am currently working to put together a local meeting for next Sunday with Art Lucier. (head of Battle for Canada) He is doing a whole bunch of small meetings in Canada. I want to hear what he has to say. We need to know what’s going on. There’s way more to this than meets the eye. It’s a political issue.” Really now!
Let’s stay focused shall we. Let’s not get carried away with political plots and biblical ‘types’ and reading in end times prophetic warnings into what is happening. This is life happening on a crowded and fallen planet. And, we are able to avoid getting sick by following some simple rules – like wash your hands. Believers need to stop reading into this end-times events, false prophetic words, government conspiracies … Give me a break!
You know what you need to do? Simple … go for a walk and talk to your neighbours one-on-one maintaining the 2 meters distance that the medical people are recommending. Tell them about Jesus and His offer of forgiveness and eternal life. That’s our mandate. We are to “go into all the world and make disciples.” Like Jesus we are to “seek and save the lost.” We are to “love our neighbours as we love ourselves.” Let’s let go of the panic button. Let’s stop reading in your pet end-times doctrine into what is happening. Let’s stop stockpiling food and toilet paper. Let’s act with level heads and lend a helping hand to those who need help at this time in the history of the human race.
Whatever you do, please “shut-up,” and stop gossiping. Stop forwarding all these social network messages that are neither right nor biblical. And they are certainly not helpful. Let’s see if, in the midst of this rather difficult time, we can help improve the reputation of the born again, Spirit-filled Church and not simply send our reputation further down the toilet.
Take a moment and read the following … from Martin Luther during an epidemic in his lifetime.
“I shall ask God mercifully to protect us. Then I shall fumigate, help purify the air, administer medicine and take it. I shall avoid places and persons where my presence is not needed in order not to become contaminated and thus perchance inflict and pollute others and so cause their death as a result of my negligence. If God should wish to take me, he will surely find me and I have done what he has expected of me and … so I am not responsible for either my own death or the death of others. If my neighbour needs me however I shall not avoid place or person but will go freely as stated above. See this is such a God-fearing faith because it is neither brash nor foolhardy and does not tempt God.”
Martin Luther Works v. 43, p. 132 Letter “Whether one may flee from a deadly plague” written to Rev. Dr. John Hess
Time to go back to the future. We need to look back at the beginning of the Church as found in the pages of Scripture to discover where we are to go from here; the future of the Church. We need to look at our past to reach our future.
In the beginning, the church was all about sending out disciples. There was no ‘sacred event’ on a Sunday morning to even speak of. Jesus brought his disciples together, taught them, spent time with them, and then sent them out. This is what the Church needs to be doing.
Of course, we will come together on the weekend or even a weeknight and worship God as a community. But I believe we need to shift our focus from this ‘sacred event,’ usually a Sunday morning worship service and begin to see the rest of the week. So there needs to be a major shift in the Church model from building up an event (a once-a-week sacred service) to building up disciples.
Have you ever considered that when you ask someone, “How was church?” They usually tell you one of two things? They say either, “The message was great!” or, “Worship was great!” Church has been dwindled down to two people doing two things for about two hours. That’s pretty crazy! What about everyone else? Everybody gets 168 hours in their week. Our strongest members spend five to eight hours at church, at best. But we spend most of our lives at work. Studies show that a third of our lives will be spent at work (92,120 hours). It sounds like that should be our mission field and church should be focused on equipping disciples to do the work of the ministry where people work, life, and play. Sunday should always be a priority, but I don’t think we can ever make disciples as Jesus wants us to if Sunday morning is the be-all and end-all.
In the Church of the future – the one Jesus is building – church will be much less an event and the main focus of the week for believers. It will be more of a pit stop. In racing, a pit stop is a place to refuel and get back in the race. However, the right put crew is needed to quickly and effectively build up the body of believers and send them the the racetrack equipped and ready. Thus we need the full fivefold ministry and especially that of the apostles and prophets (Ephesians 4:11-12).
The leader (not usually a pastor) of this new form of church doesn’t wake up and ask himself, “How is my church?”
He wakes up and asks himself, “How is my city?”
He believes – and here is a real key – that it’s not that God’s church has a mission but that God’s mission has a church.
If you start with the health of the church, it’ll never be good. So you’ll focus internally. But if you start with the health of the community – your friends, family, co-workers – you’ll see the church (its members) as a means to meet the needs of the non-believers. Then the church (God’s people) will become an instrument rather than an event.
When you consider the welfare of your community and not just the welfare of your members, you realize the gravity of need around you. So then you begin to equip your people to meet those needs and, in so doing, share the Gospel of the Kingdom. As you equip your members then you will have disciples who are ready to love their neighbour as they love themselves.
Think about it. If Jesus had started each day asking, “How are the Twelve?” He’d never have gotten to do what He came to do, and the Twelve never would have become who they were designed to be. Instead Jesus embraced and engaged the community and especially those far from God and equipped His disciples to minister and make a difference.
This change in the focus of the Church from a weekly “sacred event” to a pitstop in the week where we are encouraged, enabled, empowered and equipped will then allow all of the members of the church to be working to fulfill God’s mission in the place where they live, work, and play. Everyone then is a minister.
I have just had the opportunity to be driving by myself for a total of 14 hours in the last five days or so. I spend some of that time thinking, praying, and sorting thoughts and feelings, filing them or assimilating them so that they become part of who I am and are “filed away” and no longer continue to cross my mind and heart requiring more attention. Driving long distances is a good time to examine life and where it is at currently. An ancient philosopher wrote, “An unexamined life is not worth living.” I agree.
During the many hours of driving I occasionally listen to a specific program on PBS – Public Broadcasting Station – that is on the satellite radio system that my car is equipped to receive. This specific program often interviews some amazing people. This particular program was speaking with Ben Westhoff. He has just published a book called Fentanyl, Inc. It was an amazing interview. You can listen to it (in English) as well as see a full transcript of the interview at: https://www.kenw.org/post/fentanyl-dark-web-profit-center-chinese-labs-us-streets
The interview led me to purchase the book Westhoff had just written and that was the center of the interview and discussion. Fentanyl is a major issue in every nation where I work. The basic drug is known by many names on the streets – K2, Spice, 251-NBOMe – and is basic to the opioid epidemic that is sweeping our nations. The book deals with this epidemic on many levels – pharmacology, politics, law enforcement, drug dealers and even drug lords, as well as the families whose lives have been destroyed by this so easy to obtain drug.
From the cover … “Through his courageous reporting Ben Westhoff takes us to the heart of the problem. In Fentanyl, Inc., he shines a light on the human wreckage and damage caused by the most powerful and dangerous of the opioids, fentanyl and its derivates. He shows us how addiction, mislabeling, and purposefully or mistakenly mixed drugs lead to tragic ends. The drug is often created out of factories operating with the permission of the Chinese government. To solve this epidemic, we must understand it. Make no mistake: the fentanyl problem is a global issue. Fentanyl, Inc., is a must read, pulling the curtain back and showing us how this human tragedy occurs and how insidious and addictive a drug can be.”
I am personally amazed at the number of believers who are unaware of what is happening in their world. Just after hearing the author interviewed I spent time with a number of believers – both one-on-one and with several groups. They were not aware of the problems we are all facing. And, some of them even bluntly stated that they don’t want to know all the “bad news” and thus don’t listen to the news or stay current with what is happening in the world and in their neighbourhood. I was astonished. I was amazed. I was shocked. I was deeply saddened.
Jesus said that we were to live in the world – be in touch and involved with what is happening – just don’t get sucked into the ways of the world personally. In the world but not of the world. We are called to be light and salt … light needs to be in the darkness to make a difference. Salt needs to be in touch to change and preserve things. It is not wise to avoid knowing and understanding the bad news that is spoken about in real life every day. Remember, the Gospel is only good news because there is bad news.
Isolating oneself from what is happening in the world is not what Jesus did. And, He does not want us to do it either. John 1:14 states that He came and dwelt among us. He became one of us. He lived as we live and where we live. We are to do the same. We need to engage with our culture and society, with all of its issues. We need to embrace those who are struggling with drug addiction and be there for them – loving, accepting, forgiving, caring. Anything less is not Christian.
We have a cycle of addiction and death that is gripping many families and even nations. It is time for believers to become aware of what is really happening in the world – in their world. Don’t kid yourself, someone in your own local community and neighbourhood has an addiction problem. And, Fentanyl is not just a street drug that people buy illegally. Many people receive their initial introduction to this ‘drug problem’ through legal prescriptions and become addicted that way.
We need, as believers, not to be ignorant of the current social problems our world and our local community is facing. We need to care enough to become knowledgable and involved.
In the house church movement in the nation of Iran, commitment is something spoken about right from the get-go. And the commitment you would need to make is different than the commitment required in nations in the western world.
If you want to join an underground fellowship and attend a house church you have to sign a written statement agreeing to:
1> Lose your property
2> Be thrown in jail
3> Be martyred for the faith
Not your average commitment required in most churches today. But, in reality very biblical as the early church as it began life in the Roman Empire might have had a similar commitment for its members.
In the house church movement in Iran this biblical understanding of Christianity is both spoken about, committed to, and lived out. Needless to say, this level or depth of commitment leads to a totally different kind go fellowship. Christian fellowship in Iran looks a lot different than what passes for fellowship in most first world nations.
A visitor to the North American church, a resident of Iran, was quoted as saying, “What we call sanctification, they call prerequisite.”
In other words, we act as through surrender and dying to self is a lifelong process (sanctification) where one slowly decides whether or not we will give up certain things, certain areas of life, to God. Believers in Iran – they are taught what the New Testament sets forth as truth when it comes to living “The Way” as the Christian faith was once called.
They are required to count the cost upfront before committing to be a member of a Christian community and an underground house church. They are told that to be a believer means to surrender everything up front. Otherwise, they cannot join the fellowship of the church.
The Iranian Church Is the Fastest Growing in the World
By Bryce Young –
October 4, 2016
It’s a simple story that can be summarized in just two sentences: Persecution threatened to wipe out Iran’s tiny church. Instead, the Iran church has become the fastest growing in the world, and it is influencing the region for Christ.
Everyone loves a good story. As Christians, we especially love stories that tell us how, when all seems lost, God makes a way.
One such story is about the church in Iran—and it’s one of the greatest stories in the world today.
As simple as it is, such an amazing story is worth examining deeper.
Growth Amid Persecution
The Iranian revolution of 1979 established a hard-line Islamic regime. Over the next two decades, Christians faced increasing opposition and persecution: All missionaries were kicked out, evangelism was outlawed, Bibles in Persian were banned and soon became scarce, and several pastors were killed. The church came under tremendous pressure. Many feared the small Iranian church would soon wither away and die.
But the exact opposite has happened. Despite continued hostility from the late 1970s until now, Iranians have become the Muslim people most open to the gospel in the Middle East.
Despite continued hostility from the late 1970s until now, Iranians have become the Muslim people most open to the gospel in the Middle East.
How did this happen? Two factors have contributed to this openness. First, violence in the name of Islam has caused widespread disillusionment with the regime and led many Iranians to question their beliefs. Second, many Iranian Christians have continued to boldly and faithfully tell others about Christ, in the face of persecution.
As a result, more Iranians have become Christians in the last 20 years than in the previous 13 centuries put together since Islam came to Iran. In 1979, there were an estimated 500 Christians from a Muslim background in Iran. Today, there are hundreds of thousands—some say more than 1 million. Whatever the exact number, many Iranians are turning to Jesus as Lord and Saviour.
More Iranians have become Christians in the last 20 years than in the previous 13 centuries put together.
In fact, last year the mission research organization Operation World named Iran as having the fastest-growing evangelical church in the world. According to the same organization, the second-fastest growing church is in Afghanistan—and Afghans are being reached in part by Iranians, since their languages are similar.
Three Changed Lives
The testimonies of Iranian men and women who’ve come to Christ are powerful.
Kamran was a violent man who used to sell drugs and weapons. One day, a friend gave him a New Testament. After reading for five consecutive days, Kamran gave his life to Jesus. When his family and friends saw his transformed life over the ensuing months, many of them also came to faith. A church now meets in Kamran’s house.
Reza was a mullah (a Muslim scholar) who hoped to become an ayatollah (a Shiite leader). One day, while studying at an Islamic seminary in Iran, he found a New Testament that had been boldly left in the library. Out of curiosity, he picked it up and was deeply shaken. Over time, he fell in love with Jesus. Today Reza is a trained church planter serving in the Iran region.
Fatemah’s earliest memories were of being raped by her brothers. At age 11, she was sold in marriage to a young drug addict who abused her and then divorced her when she was 17. Upon returning home she was raped again, until she decided to leave. On the streets she heard the gospel preached, and she trusted Jesus. In time, she married a Christian man. As they were receiving training in evangelism and church planting, Fatemah felt called to go back home and witness to her family. Her entire family repented and gave their lives to the Lord. The first church Fatemah and her husband planted was in her childhood home. Fatemah felt called to go back home and witness to her family. Her entire family repented and gave their lives to the Lord.
I’ve had the privilege of hearing Kamran, Reza and Fatemah share their stories. I’ve heard countless other testimonies that are equally remarkable. Each one is a painful and yet marvelous celebration of the gospel’s beauty. Each one is a powerful reminder that despite trials and persecution—perhaps because of the suffering—the gospel of Jesus shines and the church of Jesus grows.
Story God Is Writing
We’re living in a time when many Christians are suffering for their faith, particularly in Islamic contexts. People often react by preaching fear and hatred of the Muslim world. Yet the apostle
Paul reminds us that we are to “rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer” (Rom. 12:12). This is our call.
And the story God is writing for Iran reminds us that we have every reason to rejoice and remain confident in our sovereign Lord and the power of his gospel. Jesus will build his church. It’s a promise (Matt. 16:18).
I ask that you would keep the people and nation of Iran in your prayers. Please pray for:
• Many more Iranians to give their lives to Christ.
• Endurance and joy for Iranian Christians suffering in prison for their ministry—many have testified to sensing the prayers of the global church while imprisoned.
• More trained leaders to serve as evangelists, church planters and pastors to disciple the many new Iranian believers.
Persecution threatened to wipe out Iran’s tiny church. Instead, by God’s mighty hand, his church is growing rapidly. Praise him!
As someone who works with house churches in a number of nations including my own country of Canada, I am always interested in what is happening in the worldwide House Church Movement.
I recently discovered that a number of underground house church movements in China have five pillars that they build upon. Not to be confused with Islam’s five pillars – another blog for another day!
1> They expect every true believer to have a deep, deep commitment to prayer. Often in North America prayer is an option and not a regular event in the life of the believer. Prayer is seen as something we do when all else fails or things have reached crisis proportions. And, I have seen this approach to prayer creeping in to the church in the former Soviet Union nations.
In the underground church in China prayer is an absolute essential for a healthy Christian life and witness. And, they expect every believer too make a practical but deep, deep commitment to daily prayer.
2> Each believer must have a deep commitment to the Word of God. Again, here in North America and creeping into other nations, is a total disregard for the Word of God. The Word of God, the Bible, is no longer seen as a basic necessity to a healthy, spiritual life. It is not seen as food for the soul and spirit. It is certainly not viewed as the authority for the way Christians live and what they believe.
In the underground church in China they expect every believer to be committed to the Word of God as their authority and as a source of spiritual food. As well, it is the first place they go to hear the voice of the Spirit.
3> There is a serious commitment to the sharing of the Gospel of the Kingdom (Matthew 24:14). This is the only true Gospel. The Gospel of salvation is a false gospel because it does not deal with repentance and Paul states that without repentance there is no salvation (2 Corinthians 7:8-10)
In the underground church in China believers are expected to share their faith in a risen Jesus Christ with others regardless of the risks that this entails. Again, it is not an option. It is not something that only those who are called as evangelists do. It is not just for the extroverts. It is not something you do when you “feel like it.” Every believer is expected to share the reason for the hope that is within them.
4> Chinese believers in the underground house church movements (and there are many movements) are asked to have a regular expectation of miracles happening when they gather and when they pray. Because of their prayer life; because they believe in the Holy Spirit; because they believe in God’s power – they expect to see the supernatural on a daily basis. It is an expectation.
Regretfully, here in North America church and the individual Christian life could go on without any changes if God were simply to stop being with them. The supernatural is not a daily thought or exception and thus is not an every day happening or experience.
5> The every day believer in the underground house church movements in China are asked to embrace the suffering that will come their way for the glory of Jesus. Suffering for the faith is simply a natural expectation of having made a decision to follow Jesus as their Lord and Saviour.
The early believers in the book of Acts had the same attitude of being thankful for being able to suffer for Christ’s sake.
Acts 5:40-41 “Rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonour for the Name.”
Apparently we have much to learn from the example of the Christian believers in the underground house church movements in China.
A wonderful example of worship to our amazing God in the Turkish language
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