Words That Have Lost Their Meaning – Part Two

Another word that has lost its meaning is the word “missionary.” Missionary is not a Bible word, but it is a word that has come to define the response to Jesus’ command to go out with His message. A missionary or a missionary group is an individual, a family, or a team committed to proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom. It is often a word used to describe a person who proclaims the gospel to people who have never heard and people who have little chance of hearing. Often workers who share their faith are required to learn other languages and cross cultures; often, that is required even in our home countries due to the diversity of nationalities and languages now present in almost every nation.

In reality, the word should not be used. However, often it is used in reference to a leader in the Bible who is actually in the role and calling of an apostle. Paul and Barnabas being two examples. Words that could be used in place of the word ‘missionary’ could include “worker,” “sent out ones,” or “overseas workers.”

However, truth be known the real word to be used should be “disciple” or “follower” because all true believers are called to “go into all the world and make disciples” (Matthew 28:19). Going  out to proclaim the gospel does not make you a missionary. Nor does it make you a “worker.” It simply means you are being an obedient follower or disciple of Jesus. Could we call them “sent out ones?” Yes! Because the church was always meant to be apostolic. The word apostle means “the sent one.” So, when apostles are part of the ministry team and the foundation of the local church, then the church, under the leadership of an apostle, becomes apostolic. The people come to understand the need to “go into all the world” and so become apostolic (sent out ones) in their nature, in their thinking, and in their actions.

The root idea of “mission” is the sending activity of God. In one sense, certainly, Jesus sends His followers to their families and friends and neighbours. In a deeper and true biblical sense, Jesus ultimately sends His followers to proclaim His grace throughout the entire world.. starting in Jerusalem, through Judea, on to Samaria, and then to all the people groups, especially in places where His grace has not yet been proclaimed. Scripture is clear in helping us to understand that, in this sense, every believer is a sent out one. The command to be on mission is a command common to every follower of Jesus. It is a command to be both local and global. 

The word “pastor” is another word that has lost its original meaning and almost any meaning in today’s world. The word ‘pastor’ appears once in the New Testament and it is in regard to the fivefold, trans-local ministry of Ephesians 4:11-12.

“And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ…”

This ‘pastor’ travelled as did the other four of the fivefold ministry team. However, as soon as we hear that word today we do not think “trans-local” but local … the leader of a local church. This was never the plan in the early church as seen in the New Testament. It was also not the plan the Lord had when He stated He would build His Church. The local churches in the New Testament were all led by apostles … James as leader of Jerusalem is an example. The spiritual oversight of the local assembly was in the hands of a group of elders, not a solo pastor. The work was done by the saints as they were equipped by the fivefold ministers. So, there was no need for a local full-time, paid pastor nor a part-time bi-vocational pastor.

Let’s admit it… there are 59 “one another” versers in the New Testament and no one man or woman – no pastor – can fulfil all 59 of these commands for every person who is a member of the local assembly no matter how big or small the assembly is. So the five-fold pastor comes in to a local assembly and teaches the people how to care for “one another” and thus fulfill the 59 ‘one another’ commands. 

There are many other words that we use as believers that have lost their original meaning or all meaning … but these are the ones that really bother me personally and that, I believe, are preventing the Church from the needed changes that will take it in to an effective, fruitful, and productive future. 

Words That Have Lost Their Meaning – Part One

I recently spoke on a Saturday morning to a group of believers in Eastern Canada. Near the end of the morning of teaching I asked them if they were glad that they had come to church. Everyone said that they were glad to have invested the time. Of course, they did not come to Church; they are the church. They came to an assembly of believers in a building set aside for assemblies. We are the Church. God’s people are the Church.

It got me to thinking about how we use words that have really totally lost their original meaning and now refer to something other than what the word first referred to. And, that maybe it is time to, once again, redefine the words we frequently use as believers.

The Church is the called-out, baptized, gathered-together people of God. Church is defined by community-belonging, it acts on Jesus’ call to be people on mission, it will reproduce itself (which will result in both new believers and new communities of faith), it will finance itself, it will provide care and support for those who make up the church, and it will choose its own leaders and polity. The categories and activities highlighted in Acts 2 are a helpful guide: a church will be committed to worship (usually inside of homes), and missions which lead to a fulfilling of the Great Commission from across the street to the ends of the earth. The Church includes fellowship, education, equipping and strengthening the believers for ministry, and a lifestyle of discipleship which is an interchangeable term with evangelism. When did Jesus disciple His disciples and when did He evangelize them?

Because I work with house churches in a number of nations …A house church is typically a small body of ten to thirty believers who meet together in homes. Organization of house churches can vary significantly, but leadership is normally fluid and adaptable. When a house church grows to a certain size, it will typically divide into smaller groups (thus multiplying and planting another house church). House churches were the norm in New Testament times, and they are the norm in many settings today. 

The issue I see with house churches is that when a house church is birthed or joined by  a number of traditional Christians from mainline denominations they really expect the house church to simply being a smaller version of the traditional congregation that they recently left. Thus they expect all of the elements of the traditional church service including having a “pastor / teacher” who shares a teaching / sermon each time they meet. This is not a true biblical house church. 

With churches in general – both those that meet in larger buildings and those that meet in homes – I think we have a major problem. We seldom see the Church functioning as it should be. Most churches are not “equipping the saints for the work of the ministry” (Ephesians 4:12). They are teaching believers but it is simply more information to be remembered in the head and does not touch the heart. Thus there is just information and not life-transformation. Believer’s lives are not being changed. People are not being equipped for ministry – enabling them to better touch the hearts and lives of others who do not know the Lord. The ministry is not shared equally among the many but is the work of just a few – who are often seminary trained. And, in leadership, there is simply the ministry of the “pastor” and not the fivefold ministry – thus not the full ministry of the Lord who was an apostle, a prophet, an evangelist, a paster (Great Shepherd) and teacher. 

So, words like “Church” and “House Church” can mean so many different things depending on who is speaking and who is listening. I believe it is time to define the words that we are using. And, to define them biblically. Then to make the changes necessary to come into line with the true meaning of the word “Church” and other words that we use regularly. 

That would be a first good step to actually becoming all that the Lord wants us to be. 

More next time…

Will the Real Christians Please Stand Up

There seems to be multiple definitions of the word Christian. It is used in a variety of ways. So, I have found it helpful for myself to define the word and even group those who call themselves Christians into these categories.

Census Christians are people, who, if asked about their religion, would say “Christian.” This designation might not relate at all to anything that these people believe or practice. Often, this is a cultural answer. If asked about their religion in certain geographic areas, for example, many people might answer, “Of course I’m a Christian. Isn’t everybody?” These people are “census Christians.” On a census, these people would check the “Christian” box. What that designation actually means is anybody’s guess. 

These people are also known as Cultural Christians as their lives are identical to their neighbours — those who are not believers.  Being a Christian has not altered their values, morals, ethics, priorities, or lifestyle. 

Member Christians claim some sort of identification with a particular Christian institution or organization. Again, this does not mean that these people necessarily participate or even that they show up at their church. These people simply have some sort of personal connection with a church and they identify themselves with that church. They might say, “I am Catholic,” or “I am Baptist,” or “I am Methodist.”

Practicing Christians actually participate in the life of a church. They typically attend worship services. In some fashion, these people are involved in the forms and rituals of the faith. Often their connection with the church is limited to weddings, baptisms, and funerals. They usually attend at Easter and Christmas. 

Believers (or Committed Believers) are people for whom the Christian faith is central, life-changing, and life-shaping. These Christians strive to live out their faith and communicate their faith to others. To use the language of the evangelical world, these people have a personal relationship with Jesus. Often they will use the language of John 3 and talk about being “born again.” They have a personal and intimate relationship with Jesus (John 17:3)

Hidden Christians are people who believe secretly. Fearful of persecution, these people keep their faith to themselves. In some settings, these believers might keep their faith secret from government officials and employers. In other settings, they might keep their faith secret even from family members and friends. These believers might not ever experience specific acts of outward persecution, but the fear of persecution has caused their faith to be completely inward. For the most part, their faith, though real, is hidden. In most cases, they have not “joined” a church, through this might be an artificial measurement since, in many settings, there is no official institutional church to join.

When I use the word Christian I am referring to and speaking of people who know who Jesus is and who have had a personal encounter with Him and are thus born again. I am referring to people for who knowing Jesus has transformed their life. People who are a journey as they obey the will of the Lord. They are followers of Jesus, His disciples. So they wold fit into the last two categories — Believers (or Committed Believers) and Hidden Christians. 

For me this means I see that many who call themselves Christians are not and so are still in need of being born again. Just because someone calls themselves a Christian does not make them a Christian. Just because they go to church regularly also does not make them a Christian. Having a life-changing encounter with the love of God as found in Jesus Christ — being born again — is what determines if you are a true Christian and follower (disciple) of Jesus. So, I can honestly say that I view many who call themselves Christians as people who need to be evangelized. For truly they are religious and not righteous.

And, even in the born again church I believe well over 50% of those who are members and attending are not truly born again. They said a Sinner’s Prayer and were told that they were now born again. That’s a lie. To be born again one must experience the conviction of the Holy Spirit, respond with godly sorrow, and repentance. Then pray and ask the Lord to forgive you and become Lord in your life. (See: 2 Corinthians 7:8-10) To be born again is more than having a head knowledge and understanding of who Jesus is and what He accomplished on the Cross of Good Friday and then praying a Sinner’s Prayer. Head knowledge is not enough – you need to encounter the truth and have it change your heart. 

So, Christians are those who have heard the Gospel of the Kingdom (Matthew 24:14) and responded with godly sorrow and repentance are true believers. If you have only heard the gospel of salvation and not experienced conviction and godly sorrow with repentance then you know the truth but it has yet to set you free. Head knowledge is not enough. The Bible says that even the demons know who Jesus is and what He did and they are not saved and are not going to heaven (James 2:19).  

The “Gospel of Salvation” is a man-made belief. The Gospel of the Kingdom is the only true Gospel and it will set you free and through it you become a true believer, a Christian. 

Sometimes I Can Get Angry

When I am wanting to unwind I will spend a few minutes watching the highlights of America’s Got Talent or one of the other “Got Talent” shows from numerous countries. Occasionally as I scroll through the feed looking for one I have not see I run across someone commenting on a Christian leader, a specific Christian teaching (I use the word ‘Christian’ loosely there). And, most times the reviews and comments are negative. I understand that people want to vent. And, we are free to do so publicly.

The other night I was watching a post from someone I had not seen before … He was commenting on a specific movement within the Christian Church that I am familiar with and that I usually don’t completely agree with. So, I watched a few minutes of the You Tube posting. So, please note, I am watching someone I don’t know talking about men and a movement that I do know and mentioning things they teach that the reviewer believes are not biblical.

He entered into my territory … commenting on the original twelve apostles and how, after Judas was replaced by Matthias (see Acts, Chapter 1) and the early Church was established (see Acts, Chapter 2) that the ministry of the “apostle” was done away with. He simply states this as a fact. Which, by the way, it is not. He does not back it up with any credible biblical research. He just states it like it is absolute truth. Which it is not. In fact, there are 15 others in the New Testament who are referred to as apostles. In fact, the ministry of the apostolic that Jesus initiated continues today (Ephesians 4:11-12) and is foundational to all church planting and movements (Ephesians 2:20 and 1 Corinthians 12:28).

Of course, he was probably simply repeating what he was taught by others (see the blog on “monkeys” posted on November 27th). It seemed to me that he was repeating what he was taught – repeating it as a truth without ever examining the “truth” to see if it really was true. He obviously did not read the book of Acts nor Paul’s epistles as they mention many others who occupied the role and function of apostle in the early Church. He simply repeated something he was taught. Something that is biblically wrong. 

This type of ignorance and arrogance makes me mad. A totally dishonest presentation of his own beliefs passed off as absolute truth when really it is just his opinion not based in biblical fact at all. But, others will believe him. After all, he has a You Tube channel and a large number of followers. Not to mention that in the process of teaching heresy he runs down and speaks again the ministry of a number of true men of God. Again, I don’t agree with everything these men of God teach but my disagreements are in matters of interpretation and the way their ministries are operated. I do not disagree on the basics – and apostles and the other fivefold ministries are basic to the Church that Jesus is building. This man on You Tube was running down and speaking against their character, motives, and honesty. And doing so “publicly”.

Folks, we can disagree on interpretation of biblical verses and even on how we understand some basic theological truths … but these disagreements must be based on sound biblical research and a true understanding of both church history and church tradition. We have to be careful with teachings we receive and don’t examine to see if they truly contain biblical truths. We must discern what is man’s opinion and what is truly God’s Word and thus eternal truth. We must be careful with what others are saying – and posting – when often they are representing their opinion of their own church tradition as absolute truth. 

The Bible tells us that “even the very elect of God will be deceived in these latter days” (Matthew 24:24). Let’s be wise in what we do with what we hear, read, and see. Not everything is truth and even the Devil (and his ministers) can twist the truth today as he did when quoting Scripture during the tempting of Jesus (Matthew 4). 

Sometimes I get angry when I hear opinion passed off as truth. And, when I hear a so-called believer use their You Tube channel to destroy the reputation of good men of God who are out there on the front lines seeking and saving the lost … not sitting in front of a camera sprouting off about things and ministers of the Gospel they don’t even know. The man whose You Tube video on the false teachers and false movement of the Spirit I was watching is the true “False Teacher.” 

The Lesson From a Group Of Monkeys

I am always astonished at what people believe. Not just in matters of the faith but in all aspects of life. Of course, with COVID-19 there are so many differing opinions and viewpoints. The most obvious currently: the mask or no mask debate and divide. We have people who believe that asymptomatic people cannot spread the virus when scientific and medical experts tell us the opposite. We have conspiracy theories about the origin of the virus…

People put their thoughts and opinions on social media and repeat them often enough that some people begin to believe they are true. And, of course, then they retweet or repost and thus spread them further ‘as truth.’ So we end up with large numbers of people believing something that is not true. 

The other day in a series of interviews with doctors and nurses they were sharing that people who they are ministering to in hospital and the ICU – people who are dying from COVID-19 – think the COVID-19 virus is not real and simply a hoax. They believe what they have been told and what they have heard over-and-over again … not checking the facts, just believing. Even when dying they still do not believe they were really dying of COVID-19. 

It reminds me of the scientific study done a number of years ago. I have reproduced it below….

Scientists once conduced a very interesting experiment

In the middle of a room, they hung a bushel of fresh bananas halfway up a pole

Then they let four monkeys loose in the room.

Immediately the hungry monkeys dashed towards the bright yellow bananas

As they climbed the scientists blasted the monkeys with icy-cold water

The monkeys backed off, regrouped, then made a second attempt. As they started to climb the pole, once again they received the discouraging dousing

After several unsuccessful attempts, the monkeys became convinced that failure was inevitable and finally stopped trying.

The next day, the researchers removed one of the four monkeys and replaced him with a new monkey.

What did the rookie do?

He went straight for the bananas

But before he even reached the pole, the three veterans pulled him away

Undeterred, the new money tried again. 

Again his compassionate roommates intervened

At last he gave up and adopted their fatalistic attitude

Each day, the scientists replaced one of the original monkeys with a new one

By the fifth day, four monkeys occupied the room, not one of whom had ever been sprayed with cold water

From that day forward, whenever a new monkey was traded in, the others would prevent him from going for the bananas … without even knowing why 

Four had failed, and then they conditioned the novices to not even try

This happens with more than a group of monkeys. 

This happens to us as believers more often than we care to admit

People hear what we are wanting to do and tell you all the reasons we should not. You hear it often enough and you decide that you likely were not hearing God or misinterpreted what you heard.

You were in a friendship that didn’t work – others tell you that friendships are always unpredictable and usually painful so you decide not to risk another attempt at friendshipwith someone else

You were married and the marriage failed. Others tell you to just stay single as it is not worth the pain to remarry

Your first child was a pain in the neck an totally upset your life – so you don’t ever have a second one

Once burnt – twice shy

Several people I know were told by their parents and teachers as they were growing up that they would never amount to anything. Born losers. And, having heard it often enough – they  live up to the negative expectation and never use their abilities, skills, and talents to build a life that they could be proud of; a life that would benefit others and be a blessing.

It seems that we can be programmed to believe anything if we hear it often enough. And, it seems that the source of the ‘belief’ matters little. What matters is that it is repeated over and over again until it “becomes truth” to the hearer although not based in any facts. 

Remember: just because you read or hear or see something on social media does not make it true

Remember: what others say about you is not near as important as what God has declared about you

Remember: what God declares about you is always, and I repeat, always true

Remember: it is perfectly alright to check out every thing you hear or read to see if it is based in fact and is not just someone’s opinion. This is true even with teachings and sermons you may have heard. Don’t believe it because someone said it; believe it after you check it out with the written Word of God – the Bible. 

Don’t let others “make a monkey out of you.”

God Moving in Our Lives

The young apostle moves on to a Central Asian country…

During my time there, a forty-three-year-old-Muslim-background believer somehow heard through the oral grapevine that a Westerner had come to his country wanting to discover how Muslims were finding Jesus and what challenges these converts were experiencing as they lived out their faith in hostile environments. I still have no idea how he learned that I was coming or where I would be.

It turns out that Pramana traveled 29 hours to find me. He had lived his entire life in a remote, tropical, and rural region of his third-world country. He had never before been on a bus. He had not even traveled on a paved highway. Yet, somehow, he found me in one of his country’s major cities. Upon his arrival, he matter-of-factly announced: “I have heard about what you are doing. You need to hear my story also.”

This man had been born into a people group with a population of 24 million. In his people group, there were only three followers of Jesus, and no church. The only religion that he had ever practiced or known while growing up had been a sort of folk Islam. Pramana knew the Quran by rote. He couldn’t actually speak Arabic, so (as an oral communicator from an oral culture) he simply memorized the words of the book as if they were part of some sort of magic formula. He knew the story of Mohammad, of course. But he had never heard of anybody called Jesus, he had never met a believer, and he had no idea what a Bible was.

“Five years ago,” he told me, “my life was in ruins. My wife and I were always fighting; I was ready to divorce the woman. My children were disrespectful. My animals were not growing or multiplying. My crops were dying in the fields.

“So I went to the imam of the nearest mosque for help,” Pramana continued.

The imam, who also functioned as the local spiritualist, told him, “Okay, son, here is what you need to do. Go buy a white chicken. Bring it to me and I will sacrifice it on your behalf. Then, go back to your village to meditate and fast for three days and three nights.  On the third day, you will receive the answer to all the problems that you are having with your wife, your children, your animals, and your crops.”

Pramana did exactly as he was told. He went back to his village. He meditated, he fasted, he waited. Then, as he explained it: “I’ll never forget, on that third night, a voice without a body came to me after midnight. That voice said, ‘Find Jesus, find the gospel.’”

This Muslim man had no clue what that even meant. He didn’t know if Jesus might be a fruit or a rock or a tree. Pramana told me that the voice without a body also said, “Get out of bed, go over the mountain, and walk down to the coast to name of city (a city where he had never been). When you get that city at daybreak, you will see two men. When you see those men, ask them where such-and-such a street is. They will show you the way. Walk up and down that street and look for this number. When you find that number, knock on the door. When the door opens, tell the person why you have come.”

Pramana did not know that it was an option to be disobedient to the voice (Holy Spirit). He simply assumed that he was required to obey what he had been instructed to do. So he went. He didn’t even tell his wife that he was leaving, let alone where he was going. It turns out that he would be gone for two full weeks. During that time, his family had no idea where he was.

Pramana simply got out of bed, hiked over the mountain, trekked down the coast, and arrived at the specified city the next morning at daylight. He saw two men who told him where to find the street he wanted. He walked up and down that street until he found a building with the right number on it. He knocked at the door. A moment later, an older gentleman opened the door and asked, “Can I help you?”

The younger man declared: “I have come to find Jesus; I have come to find the gospel!” In a flash, the old man’s hand shot out from the darkened doorway. He grabbed Pramana by the shirt, dragged him into the apartment, and slammed the door behind him. The old man released his grip and exclaimed, “You Muslims must think I am a fool to fall for a trap as transparent as this!”

The very startled and confused traveler replied, “I don’t know if you are a fool or not, sir. I just met you. But here is why I’ve come.” Then Pramana told the older man the story of how he had come to be there that day.

The Holy Spirit of the Living God had led this young Muslim man through his dream and vision and his obedience to the home of one of the three believers in his 24 million people group. Stunned, the older man explained the gospel to this young Muslim man and led him to Christ. For the next two weeks, the old man discipled this new convert in the faith. 

That had been five years ago. Now, Pramana had made another journey. This journey was to find me and to tell me his remarkable story. He had travelled 29 hours to share how his life had changed since he had found Jesus. There had been blessings and trials and tribulations during the last five years, but his life had clearly been changed in startling ways. 

You know — that sounds so much like the story of Saul of Tarsus finding Ananias to instruct him in the teachings of Jesus – Acts 9.

I read these stories and something inside me starts to cry…

There is this hunger for the New Testament times to become real once again in this day and time … and, if I may say, in my life

There is this desire for the adventure to start in a fresh and new way

There is a deep dissatisfaction right now – inside of me – that what I have, what I’m experiencing, what I know as Christianity is no longer enough

It is like my spirit is crying out “there has got to be more”

Deep inside there is a ‘divine discontent’ letting me know that major change has begun for me in my walk with Jesus and in my every day life

I am seriously “Sometimes Disappointed With God” but it is a good thing because it motivates me to move forward regardless of the cost

And, I have begun to think through what needs to change for me to experience more of God in my life

And my desire is that you will also experience this hunger if you haven’t already

And that you will think through what needs to adjust and change for this type of lifestyle to become real and an every day occurrence in life right here and right now

A Warning to the Church Today – Part Two

As we continue to story of the survival and strength of the Russian Church in the early 1950’s…

On the day I heard the story about that conference, I was able to visit with some young people. The younger ones were excited about the chance to meet a real, live American; they wanted to practice their English language skills. Many of these young people were the grandchildren of the pastors who had been telling me the stories from the earlier days. I asked the grandchildren of the men who had so proudly told me how much Scripture and how many lyrics the young people in the house churches had been able to reproduce back in 1950’s: “Tell me how much Bible do the young people in your churches know today?”

They looked at each other and rather sheepishly admitted, “Not much.”

I didn’t want to put them on the spot or embarrass them by asking how much of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John they might be able to quote. So I asked them how many different stories from the Gospels they could think of and list. They came up with a handful.

“How many books of the Bible can you name?” I asked.

“Only a few,” they said.

I don’t know if those young people were embarrassed by their responses to my questions. I did see, however, what the Russian church had lost in the first decade of “freedom.” Under communism, the church had found way to survive and often thrive. Scripture and holy song was its lifeblood. Now, in a much freer day for the church, Scripture and holy song did not seem nearly as important.

With freedom to gather as believers the knowledge and understanding of the Scriptures apparently was no longer as important in the life of the believer. Nor were the choruses that expressed the very life and soul of the Church. The foundation for a strong and vibrant, reproducing faith was just not there in the life of the younger generation.

The warning I see for today is that many of the churches that I work in both in North America and overseas in Easter Europe and Central Asia have also lost a love for and a knowledge of the Word of God. Yes, they now have the Bible in print in their own language (and in North America in many different versions and translations). But it is not written on the hearts of the believers as it was just a generation or two before when printed copies were not available or even legal to own. And, believers no longer know the Bible’s content like they use to back when the written word was not always freely available.

It is not an issue of not having the Scriptures available. Yes, there are still many people groups who have yet to have God’s Word translated into their native tongue. But, in general …

It is not an issue of not having good Bible teachers. Many of the churches are blessed with anointed teachers of God’s Word. Bible schools now exist in many nations. And, with the internet good teachings are always available. 

It is not an issue of not being taught the Word. Good teaching is widely available if one wants to take the time to search and find it.

In most countries there is freedom to teach and preach from God’s Word. And, many can now have their own personal copy of the Scriptures available to read in their homes. 

I believe it is simply that we don’t have a hunger for God’s Word. Maybe it has become too ‘familiar.’ Maybe we rely on the paid professionals to know it and guide us into God’s truth so that we don’t have to be bothered learning it for ourselves. Maybe we no longer think that it is relevant in today’s fast-paced, social media driven world. 

Maybe it is just that when life is good and persecution is light or non-existent, God’s Word no longer seems as relevant or necessary.

Whatever the reason, the Church may be larger than ever before but I believe it is much weaker. God’s people apparently are less hungry for the Word of God. Thus we are not feeding our spirit the food it needs to be strong and vibrant in the faith. And, so we see a weak Church that is no longer fulfilling the Great Commission. A Church that is inward focused, not sharing the Gospel of the Kingdom, and thus is less and less relevant to the world in which she finds herself. 

But, this can change quickly by God’s people recognizing the need to know and live God’s eternal and unchanging Word and praying daily to be hungry for more of the Living Word of the Living God. 

How about you?

 

A Warning to the Church Today – Part One 

A story, which for me, contained a warning of how fast things can change in the world but more importantly in the Church. I read the following in a book on the Church overseas…

The place is Russia in the early 1950’s when three charismatic pastors were organ sizing house churches. While they were experiencing exciting growth in the larger moment and regularly adding new house churches, each individual house-church “congregation” consisted of the same ten or twenty people week after week, year after year. For security reasons, many of the house churches consisted entirely of people who who were related to one another and were, therefore known well enough to be trusted.

In that setting, I imagined how teenagers or young adults might understand the church and the Body of Christ., Their entire faith experience had been defined by a lifetime of weekly worship in the front room of the house with mom and dad and a few other relatives. In their eyes, that was church. There was no awareness of a larger Kingdom of God, no knowledge of what God was doing in other house churches — or even in other countries. These young people were surely in need of spiritual peers and a larger sense of community, but they likely felt isolated, lonely, and discouraged.

The three pastors who were helping to lead this movement realized what was happening, and they decided to try something. They came up with a very bold (some people would say foolish) idea. They planned and organized a youth conger in Moscow and invited all of the young, unmarried members of their various house churches —  from eighteen to thirty years of age — to meet and encourage one another. They hoped that there would be some spiritual cross-pollination between the different house-church groups and that their younger believers might learn what God was doing on a broader stage.

What some people judged top be “foolish” about the idea was thinking that a week-long meeting of almost Deven hundred young believers in Russia during the daly 1950’s could possible escape the notice of the communist government. Sure enough, the authorities did take notice. When the event was over, all three organizing pastors were arrested and sentenced to prison for three years each.

The people who were now telling me the story claimed that the pastors would have eagerly suffered the same punishment over and over again, because, as the explained to, “The Holy Spirit fell on that conference.”

The primary purpose in bringing the young people together was to gather the scattered parts of the Body of Christ in one place. The goal was to hear what God was doing with other people and to simply enjoy the experience of Christian community. At the beginning of the conference — evidently without much forethought or planning — the young people were given an interesting challenge. None of them had owned a Bible. They had never had hymnbooks or songbooks or recordings of religious music. So, in an off-handed way, the three pastors decided to determine how much Bible truth was present in that group of young people.

They said, “This will be like a game. Every day this week, we want you to gather in small groups. And we want to see how much of the four New Testament Gospels — Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John — you know and have memorized. In your groups, see how much of the Gospels you can recite. And then dod the same with songs and hymns. Let’s see how much of that van be reproduced by memory.”

At the end of the conference, when they compared and combined the efforts of all the different small groups, the young people had recreated all of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John with only a half-dozen mistakes. They had also recreated the lyrics of more than twelve hundred songs, choruses, and hymns of the faith from memory.

It became clear to me in an instant why and how the Christian faith had survived and often thrived under decades of communist oppression in the Soviet Union. I also understood what had enabled so many Russian believers to remain strong and faithful.

More next time… 

The Insanity of Christ’s Teachings

As I read through the New Testament – which I do on a regular basis – I always note something new or see something in a different light than the last time I visited the story or the passage. It has been true this time as well. As I have been reading the four gospels and the story of Jesus’s birth, life, ministry, death, and resurrection I have noted how tough some of His comments and commands really are. And, how crazy-sounding some of them are.

It seems to me that those of us who have grown familiar and even comfortable with the teachings of Christ may have allowed His teachings to lose their edge. So much of what Jesus taught makes no sense from the human perspective.

      • Love your enemies
      • If you want to be great, first learn to be a servant
      • If someone smacks you across the face, turn your head and let him slap you on the other side
      • If someone steals your coat, offer him your shirt as well
      • If you want to live, you need first to die to yourself

The complete list of Jesus’ crazy-sounding teachings is a lot longer than that. But, you get the idea. A little insane. A completely different perspective from the way the world lives. 

To me, the most startling thing Jesus ever said was when He assigned His followers the task of going out in pairs to share His good news with lost people. He said that He was sending them “as sheep among wolves.” Still, He expected them to prevail. In the history of the world, no sheep has ever won a fight with a wolf. The very idea is insane. Yet, it was a direct command and Jesus expects His followers to be obedient to His commands. 

We often don’t deal with these statements that Jesus made. They appear not to relate to us or to our world and so we are able to discount them or simply ignore them. But, we should not push our questions and our struggles out of sight. In fellowship with other believers who love us and in the local house church where I attend and belong –  it is safe to deal with these ‘insane teachings’ the Lord has left us. 

This one comment in the midst of many “insane teachings” leads us to ask ourself:

      • Can God truly overcome evil?
      • Is love really more powerful than hate?
      • How can a person maintain even a small hope in a dark place?
      • How is it possible for faith to survive in an insane environment where war rages and radical religious fanatics follow their own destructive disregard for human life?
      • How can someone live the abundant, victorious life that Jesus promised in our world’s hardest places?
      • Can Christianity work outside of western, dressed-up, well-ordered nations? 
        • If so, how?
      • How does the Christian faith fit into the insanity of evil, the inhumanity of people, and the pain of loved ones dying needless deaths?
      • Is the good news of the gospel powerful enough to overcome the forces of evil in our world’s darkest places?
        • And if it is, why do we see so much ‘crucifixion’ and experience so little of the resurrection?

I work hard to answer these questions and others because although we are sent out as sheep among wolves we don’t want to be or have to be stupid sheep among wolves. 

Never be afraid to ask yourself and others the hard questions. They need to be answered and can be answered as we take our faith into all the world and make disciples. 

Step Out In Faith – Part Four

As we continue to look at stepping out in faith as a way of life for the believer, we need to look at “Freezing Fear” and “Feeble Faith”.

Two closely related enemies meet us at the threshold of passionate faith living: freezing fear and feeble faith. People of passion respond to these two enemies by being alert to  opportunities opening up in their daily lives and trusting God as they walk through them with boldness. These doors can appear in any area of our daily life. They may take the form of opportunities for continuing education, advancement at work, developing new skills, or meeting new people. They may come as opportunities for greater levels of Christian ministry: a deeper personal commitment to Christ, a new mentoring relationship, greater leadership responsibility, or increased obedience in financial stewardship. Od they may appear as opportunities for family growth: taking a class together, going on a mission trip together, or setting new priorities for family finances.

Watch for newly opening doors. God’s work is accomplished in this world through them. Don’t allow feeble faith to leave you standing at the doorstep. Be a person of passion who not only sees God’s opportunities but charges through them with faith in His provision.

God calls us in many different ways — we never know how or when He will call us to go through the next door he opens for us. That’s half the fun. Being surprised and responding in instant obedience when surprised by what He is calling us (asking us) to become involved in. An elder businessman once confided in his son, “The secret is to jump at every opportunity.” The son asked how he could know when an opportunity was coming. The father replied, “You can’t — you just have to keep jumping!” The same is true in our walk of faith.

Let’s end this series of blogs the same way we began … with a true story. A story of a young man stepping out in faith – defeating freezing fear and feeble fear to walk through a door God opened for him.

Ed nervously paced the crowded sidewalk outside Holton’s Shoe Store in downtown Boston. His brief lunch hour was nearly over, but he had not yet done what he had come to do. Inside the shoe store was an eighteen-year-old clerk who was a member of the Sunday school class Ed taught at church. The young man had seemed bored in class and generally disinterested in spiritual things since he began attending church one year earlier. Ed felt burdened to talk to him about his relationship with Christ, and today was the day he had planned to do so. But he was nervous about it. What if he won’t listen to me? What if he thinks I’m being too pushy and quits the class all together? What if he gets angry and throws me out?

Breathing a prayer for courage, Ed finally walked into the store and found the clerk busy at work. The young man was surprised to see his Sunday school teacher, but Ed quickly got to the point. “I came to tell you how much Christ loves you,” he said. They talked for several minutes, then the young man knelt down on the spot and opened his life to Jesus Christ. Later the clerk related the impact of his conversion: “I was in a new world. The birds sang sweeter, the sun shone brighter. I’d never known such peace.”

Ed left the store that day rejoicing that he had overcome his self-doubt and fear and let God use him to share the good news with the young shoe clerk. This fearful Sunday school teacher could not have imagined that during the next 150 years, millions of people would be just as thankful that he had overcome his anxiety and hesitation that April day in 1855 to share the gospel in a shoe store. Though unaware until now, you may be one of the people whose spiritual journey was influenced by this Sunday school teacher, Edward Kimball.

You see, the eighteen-year-old Boston show clerk Kimball talked to that day was Dwight L. Moody, who became one of America’s great evangelists in the latter half of the nineteenth century. Moody had an impact all over the world. In addition, Moody later counselled a young man named J. Wilbur Chapman on the assurance of his salvation. Chapman became a Presbyterian minister, evangelist, and Moody’s friend and colleague in ministry. Moody and Chapman strongly influenced a young professional baseball player named Billy Sunday, whom God also called to evangelistic ministry. It is estimated that three hundred thousand men and women came to faith in Christ during Billy Sunday’s two hundred campaigns.

But Kimball’s legacy didn’t stop there. A 1924 Billy Sunday evangelistic campaign in Charlotte, North Carolina, resulted in the formation of the Charlotte Businessman’s Club, which continued to evangelize the region. In 1934, the CBMC invited evangelist Mordecai Ham to conduct a campaign in Charlotte. A young man of eighteen reluctantly attended one of those meetings and then gave his life to Christ. His name was Billy Graham. No one has preached the gospel to more people than Billy Graham. 

Was Billy Graham instrumental in your coming to Christ? If not directly, perhaps the person who brought you to Christ was influenced by his preaching. At the very least, you likely know someone who became a Christians because of this great evangelist’s ministry.

The gripping reality is this: Countless millions of people have been brought to faith in Christ through the preaching of D.L. Moody, Billy Sunday, and Billy Graham during the past century and a half. What would have happened if a Sunday school teacher named Edward Kimball had allowed self-debut and fear to detour him from living out his passion for sharing Christ with others? 

He took a small step of faith, walked through the door that God had opened before him, and the angels are still singing over lost sinners being saved even today as a result of that one humble but determined man’s sharing of the love of Jesus.