Category Archives: Church

Watch What You ‘Drink’: You Can’t Trust Everything That’s Preached, Even When it’s by Famous Megachurch Pastors

Suppose you’re at your favorite health food café to grab a healthy yet delicious smoothie. You watch as they toss in some kale, some acai berries, pineapple and mango chunks, maybe a few chia seeds – and half-a-dozen rat droppings. Then they turn on the blender and whip up your smoothie.

Do you still drink it? I mean, most of that stuff is still really healthy, right? Or do those six rat droppings pretty much ruin the whole thing?

I thought of this illustration after watching a recent three-part sermon series called Aftermath by megachurch pastor Andy Stanley. Stanley, the son of renowned preacher Charles Stanley, leads North Point Church near Atlanta. With about 30,000 attending weekly services, it is one of the largest churches in the country.

As a person with the gift of teaching, I know that teaching God’s word is a weighty responsibility. In his epistle, James tells us that teachers will receive a stricter judgment – Jesus’ principle that to whom much is given much is expected. So I don’t take it lightly when I find myself in disagreement with someone eminently more famous than myself, especially when much of what Stanley says in the series is very healthy and needs to be taught in the church. It just feels like a few twisted bits of thinking could ruin the whole drink.

I don’t believe that Stanley is deliberately trying to mislead people. In fact, his intention is to bring more people to Jesus. But some of things he says don’t match up with scripture. This could be a case of “what I meant to say is not what I said, and what you heard is not what I thought I said.” Communication is difficult. Still, I think some of these issues need to be addressed.

So let me dissect.

The healthy components

New Covenant replaces the Old Covenant – Stanley’s main point is that as Christians, we are now under the New Covenant of Jesus’ resurrection rather than the Old Covenant – the Sinai Covenant, the Law of Moses. This is absolutely correct. Jesus said he came to fulfill the Old Covenant, which means we no longer have to try to do so. Paul tells us often, but especially in Romans, that we are no longer under the Law.

The Ten Commandments are part of the Law of Moses that has been fulfilled and that we are no longer under.

Goodbye Ten Commandments – Like kale, the least appealing ingredient here may be the healthiest. I have said for years that the debate about whether the Ten Commandments should be in schools or government buildings is silly. The Ten Commandments are part of the Law of Moses that has been fulfilled and that we are no longer under. I’ve referred to them as the preface to the Law; Stanley calls them the table of contents to the Law.

By that I don’t mean that it is suddenly OK to murder people and commit adultery. It’s that we are under a New Covenant that more succinctly sums up what the Law said – Love God with everything you’ve got, and love your neighbor like you love yourself.

No mixing and matching – Stanley correctly says that we can’t try to keep part of the Old Covenant, like the Ten Commandments, and meld it into the New Covenant. Nor can you “fix” the Old Covenant by adding pieces of the New Covenant – this was the point of Jesus’ illustration of cutting a piece out of a new garment to patch up an old garment. We must leave the Old Covenant behind and begin living by the New Covenant.

Our faith is not based on the Bible – This one may be a little trickier to digest, like chia seeds. This doesn’t mean anything is wrong with the Bible. It means that our faith is based on God, not a thing. However, the Bible is vital. It is our means of discovering God and deepening our faith.

Chocolate chips or rat droppings?

There are a few murky areas in his sermon series that make me a bit unsure whether he’s saying what it sounds like he’s saying.

Old Covenant = Old Testament – At times, Stanley seems to equate the Old Covenant with the Old Testament writings. He states that we need to spend more time reading the New Testament and less reading the Old Testament – although in my experience, most Christians already spend little time in the Old. In fact, if you moved Psalms and Proverbs to the New Testament, many Christians would never read anything to the left of Matthew.

I would go so far as to say that it’s impossible to fully understand and appreciate Jesus’ redeeming work without reading and understanding the Old Testament.

The entire Old Covenant is contained in the Old Testament, but the Old Testament contains far more than the Old Covenant. All 39 books, in some way, point to the coming savior. I would go so far as to say that it’s impossible to fully understand and appreciate Jesus’ redeeming work without reading and understanding the Old Testament. In fact, without the Old Testament, we wouldn’t know about our need for a Messiah, and would have no way to prove that Jesus was indeed the Messiah.

Angry God vs. Loving God – Stanley seems to resurrect the old idea that the God of the Old Testament was different from the one in the New Testament. That was the old, angry God who didn’t offer any grace so we want the new God who loves everybody.

What I believe he was saying is that God had a different agenda in the Old Testament – establishing the Jewish nation above others in His love and care, while in the New Testament, his love and grace is for all the nations. But I think it’s easy for someone to hear in his message that the Old Testament God was different – angry, vindictive, morally imperfect – than the all-loving New Testament God.

And now, the rat droppings

Grace didn’t exist in the Old Testament – Stanley, while pointing to the word Grace on a video screen, said, “See, when you read the Old Testament, when you read the Old covenant, when you read the story of Israel, when you read the prophets of Israel, you don’t see much of this. It’s ‘I will if you will,’ that’s God’s contract with the nation.”

If you don’t see God’s grace and unfailing love oozing from the Old Testament pages, you’re not trying. Starting when He made clothes for Adam and Eve right after they sinned and ruined His creation to His repeated rescuing of Israel from the hands of their enemies to the promise of a Messiah, God’s grace has been at work since the beginning of time and up to the start of the New Testament. The grace found in the New Testament isn’t something new, it’s a continuation of His grace, just now extended to everyone.

The first century Christians didn’t have a Bible – Stanley says, repeatedly, “The first century believers didn’t have a Bible and couldn’t have read it because most of them couldn’t read, and they couldn’t have because there was no Bible as we know it until the fourth century.” He goes so far as to say that the first century Christians were just making up things as they went along because they didn’t have any Scripture or writings.

Yes, it’s true that the biblical canon, containing the books we know today as the Bible, wasn’t created until after Constantine’s conversion in 312 A.D. But the Old Testament books were already in place by the time of Jesus. And it’s true the disciples couldn’t order a Bible and have it delivered the next day through Amazon Prime. But the Scriptures were well known to them, read in the synagogues and repeated frequently.

About 10 percent of the words in the New Testament are quotes from the Old Testament.

Scripture certainly was important to all of the New Testament writers – about 10 percent of the words in the New Testament are quotes from the Old Testament. When Paul told Timothy in 2 Tim. 3:16-17 that all Scripture is inspired by God and equips everyone, he was referring to the Old Testament. Jesus frequently quoted Old Testament Scriptures.

In fact, one of Stanley’s examples of why we can focus on the New Testament instead of the Old Testament is Peter’s first two sermons in Acts 2 and 3. He completely ignores the parts of those sermons where Peter quotes extensively from the prophet Joel, David and Moses. He never mentions Stephen’s lengthy sermon on his deathbed in Acts 7 that tells the Old Testament story with many verbatim quotes from the Old Testament.

So to say that the first century believers didn’t have scriptural backing is wrong. They knew Scripture and relied heavily on it.

The Old Testament is not infallible – Stanley calls this the Achilles heel of our faith that will make us vulnerable to the attacks of atheists. With one click on the computer, he says, we can find those attacks on whether the Old Testament is true and whether it is moral. And it’ll be our children and grandchildren who will discover this horrible secret and quit believing.

“As Bible goes, so goes our faith. And if all of it’s not true then none of it can be trusted. It’s a house of cards.”

He states that the new atheists “have attacked persuasively and effectively the credibility and the morality of our Bibles,” then adds later, “If the foundation for your faith is an absolutely true book, good luck with that against this kind of onslaught.” And then he adds, “But I have some great news: The foundation of our faith is not a cleverly cobbled together group of manuscripts.”

He implies that it isn’t important to believe in the Old Testament stories because all that’s important is the resurrection of Jesus.

While he never quite comes out and says that he thinks parts of the Old Testament aren’t true or credible, he doesn’t offer one argument in favor of it all being true. He doesn’t refute any of the arguments of the atheists. This isn’t just in this sermon series, either; he has hedged against this in a number of other sermons and interviews. He implies that it isn’t important to believe in the Old Testament stories because all that’s important is the resurrection of Jesus.

Ironically, he then goes on to say that the reason we can base our faith on the resurrection of Jesus is because of Jesus’ own words and the eyewitness accounts – which, of course, are found in the Bible. But if the Old Testament isn’t to be believed, why would we believe the New Testament?

No more requirements – Stanley argues, correctly, that circumcision is no longer a requirement among males to belong in the Christian church. This was decided almost 2,000 years ago, so that’s hardly new news. But he then goes on to say that basically God requires nothing from us anymore except to just believe in Him.

“Your covenant (the New Covenant) is practically irresistible because it’s this simple: God loves you so much that he spent hundreds and hundreds of years getting the world ready to send one person into this world that could pay for your sins. And all he requires from you, it’s not even ten things, it’s one thing, that you would acknowledge what he’s done for you and that you would live this out.”

True, God no longer requires a foreskin to show our faith – but now He wants much more. He wants our whole life. In Mark 8:34-35, Jesus said, “If anyone wants to be My follower, he must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life because of Me and the gospel will save it.”

Jesus sounds like it requires much more than just acknowledging what he’s done.

Everything is easy – By far the most troubling part of Stanley’s message is this: That he wants “to make it easier and easier for people to embrace faith.” He repeatedly says things like this, even says that this is painted on his church’s walls. His contention is we shouldn’t make it difficult to follow Christ.

But you know who said it is difficult to follow Christ? Jesus.

Jesus said, in the Sermon on the Mount, “How narrow is the gate and difficult the road that leads to life, and few find it.” The easy road? That leads to destruction.

Jesus said, in Matt. 24:9, “Then they will hand you over for persecution, and they will kill you. You will be hated by all nations because of my name.” Doesn’t sound too easy, does it?

Jesus said, in John 16:33, “You will have suffering in this world. Be courageous! I have conquered the world.”

His faithful followers in the early church were beaten and killed in horrible ways. In many countries even today his followers are beaten and killed in horrible ways.

Is it easy to follow Christ? Not at all. And we should quit trying to make it easy.

Difficult? Absolutely. Easy? Not at all. But Jesus, Peter and Paul all said the response we should have to all of this difficulty is to rejoice. It is in and through these difficulties that we truly begin to live in God’s power.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German theologian who was killed by Adolph Hitler because of his faith in Christ, warned that we must never settle for cheap grace – a grace that costs us very little. Cheap grace doesn’t change people’s lives. Instead, he said, we must strive for costly grace.

Bonhoeffer wrote, “Costly grace is the treasure hidden in the field; for the sake of it a man will gladly go and sell all that he has….Costly grace is the gospel that must be sought again and again, the gift which must be asked for, the door at which a man must knock.

“Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life. It is costly because it condemns sin, and grace because it justifies the sinner. Above all, it is costly because it cost God the life of his Son: ‘ye were bought at a price,’ and what has cost God much cannot be cheap for us. Above all, it is grace because God did not reckon his Son too dear a price to pay for our life, but delivered him up for us. Costly grace is the Incarnation of God.”

Is it simple to become a Christian? Absolutely. It is a free gift of grace. But is it easy to follow Christ? Not at all. And we should quit trying to make it easy. Just because something is difficult doesn’t mean it’s wrong and just because something is easy doesn’t make it right. Quitting school is easy, finishing a degree is difficult. Living on welfare is easy, working for a living is difficult. Getting a girl pregnant is easy, being a real father is difficult.

Yes, as Stanley says, we need to quit trying to make people live by Old Covenant Law. Yes, we should stop judging non-Christians by Christian standards. Yes, we should reach out in love to everyone. Yes, we should stop imposing man-made traditions and regulations on believers. And yes, we should stop trying to live the Christian life on our own strength.

But we cannot fall for the heresy that the Christian life is easy because Jesus said it won’t be. Easy never changed the world. Only people who commit their whole lives to Christ, as the apostles and early believers did – and many others throughout history did – have and will change the world.

To believe anything else, no matter how healthy the rest of the ingredients, is rat droppings that poison the whole drink.

Advertisements

Time for Men and Women to Return to Their God-Designed Roles

Since the beginning of time, the devil has been trying to disrupt God’s plan for men and women.

A long time ago, in a beautiful land, a man and woman both had clearly defined jobs to do. Both failed in their roles, and chaos resulted.

This isn’t the beginning of some tale told by Aesop or the Brothers Grimm, or even Marvel, but the story of Adam and Eve. And a retelling of the tale seems to be taking place in America today.

Back in the beginning of the world, God had created both man and woman with clearly defined roles to play in His creation – Adam was to be the caretaker and leader, Eve was to be his helper. Neither was designed to be independent of the other. Adam may have been the engine but Eve was the gasoline that kept the engine running.

One day, though, those roles broke down. A slick-talking snake (Disney didn’t invent talking animals; the Bible had them from the beginning) sidled up to Eve and hissed, “Did God really tell you that you can’t eat from any tree in the garden?” What ensued was everybody twisting God’s words to suit themselves, Eve ate from the forbidden tree, gave Adam some and he ate, and everyone has suffered from sin nature ever since.

Both Adam and Eve failed in their God-defined roles.

One of the most significant parts of the story, though, is how both Adam and Eve failed in their God-defined roles.

Eve, instead of calling on Adam to deal with the snake (as she should have, since God had given the instructions about the forbidden tree to him before Eve was created), decided to take the leadership in the situation.

Well, perhaps Adam was out of town on a business trip and she had to. But no. The scriptures say that after Eve took a bite, she handed the fruit to her husband who was with her.

Adam stood there and heard both the devil and Eve twist God’s words without saying anything, without stepping into his leadership and caretaker/protector role, and killing the snake. He didn’t even take on Eve’s role – he simply didn’t take any role.

So how does that relate to today?

For the past 30 or more years, American culture has been bent on making men superfluous – not only can women do everything a man can do and probably better, they don’t even need men to live happy, successful lives. Thanks to sperm donors, they don’t even need more than a miniscule bit of maleness in their lives, ever.

And for the past decade or more, that attitude has been increasingly creeping into the church. While not as overt a takeover as is seen in culture, there is still a shift in thinking about the roles of men and women.

Husbands are being told to “man up” and take the leadership-caretaker role that he was created for.

Thankfully, there are some Christian leaders who have recognized this and are pushing back in trying to return to the roles God created. Husbands are being told to “man up” and take the leadership-caretaker role that he was created for, especially in the home.

This is indeed an important role. Research shows that the greatest predictor of a child’s success in America has nothing to do with skin color or financial resources, but having an intact two-parent (male and female) family. Other research shows that the biggest predictor of children following Christ and being involved in the church is whether they saw their father’s involvement in the church.

In light of today’s American culture, though, many men have found it is far easier to sit back and do nothing. Leading is a hard task, one that requires constant vigilance and assessment. When criticized for doing that, as culture often does, it becomes hard to stay motivated to continue in that role. But since it so important, and a role that God clearly expects Christian men to hold, then it is vital that Christian men “man up.”

It is also important for Christian women to “woman up.”

At the same time, though, it is also important for Christian women to “woman up” (doesn’t have quite the same ring to it, but the idea is the same). But too often women’s ministries focus on “empowering” women with instruction on how to be bold, dynamic and to be all they can be. There is nothing wrong with this in itself – all Christians, male and female, should be bold and strive to be everything God desires of them – but this empowerment can sometimes degenerate into little more than Christianese for some of the world’s principles.

Within a marriage, God’s role for husbands and wives is clear – the husband is to take leadership and be a caretaker/protector and the wife is to protect the integrity of his leadership with support, encouragement and prayer. Culture has falsely declared the wife’s role as inferior or not valuable, but nothing could be farther from the truth.

As the husband seeks to discern and follow God’s will, it is critical that the wife support and pray for him in that pursuit. It is the fuel for the engine – an engine can’t do anything without fuel; it is an absolutely essential ingredient. The wife’s role requires boldness and is dynamic.

As both husband and wife work together symbiotically in their roles, they will discover God’s direction for their lives. When the husband leads according to God’s will, then it will be the will of God for the wife, too. If that isn’t true then why is the devil working so hard to reverse it? He’s wanted to do this since the beginning of time because his express purpose is to turn people away from following God’s plan. Using culture to disrupt the roles of men and women is a key piece of his strategy.

The design of God cannot be changed because of the whims of the culture. The Bible is consistent on these roles from Genesis to Revelation. They were created by God for a purpose – His purpose. To change them in any way can have devastating results. Just ask Adam and Eve.

Creating a Healthy Church Goes Beyond the Numbers

A friend of mine was excited about his trip to the doctor’s office for his annual checkup. During the previous year he’d become involved in a strenuous workout program. He’d had to buy smaller-sized clothes on several occasions. He couldn’t wait to see how much weight he’d dropped in that year.

As he stepped onto the scales he wondered what the numbers would show. At least a drop of 20 pounds. Maybe even more. And then the readout displayed – exactly the same weight as the previous year.

He thought he was being pranked. How could he possibly weigh the same? It was then that he realized that while he had dropped significant amounts of fat and wore smaller clothes, he had also bulked up with muscle. So despite the scales showing exactly the same weight as the previous year, he was much fitter, much healthier and much better able to function. He learned that numbers may have very little to do with actual health.

Like with my friend’s weight, numbers may have little to do with the actual fitness of the church.

Many churches, especially smaller churches, need to change their focus in the same way. Thanks to the rise of megachurches, many Christian leaders have become obsessed with numbers and growth. But like with my friend’s weight, numbers may have little to do with the actual fitness of the church.

Seeking an increase in the number of people attending church is not listed anywhere in the Bible as being one of the pastor’s duties, or even being a church goal. The only reference to a growing church is in Acts 2, but it specifically takes the burden off the church leadership: “And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” (Acts 2:47)

That should be a big relief to church leaders everywhere. It isn’t their job to add to the numbers. That responsibility belongs to the Lord.

And then there’s the example of Jesus. After three-plus years of ministry, preaching to tens of thousands, the “church” at the time of his ascent into heaven was about 120. Not exactly a megachurch.

Taking the pressure of numbers off the responsibility list leaves the church free to pursue what God has called it to – becoming fitter and healthier to carry out God’s mission.

After three-plus years of ministry, preaching to tens of thousands, the “church” at the time of Jesus’ ascent into heaven was about 120. Not exactly a megachurch.

But what does that mean? Here are a few steps church leaders and their members can take.

Thank God. Start out by being thankful for who you already have in your church. Realize that God may have a reason for keeping your church small. Acknowledge that He and He alone will create genuine growth.

Discipleship. The call for all Christians is to make disciples – not just evangelize, but to create an ongoing discipleship process that builds mature Christians. Church leaders should have discipleship groups which in turn disciples others, which disciple others, etc.

Shepherd your flock. God has entrusted church leaders with the people in their congregation. They should be the first priority whether or not any growth ever happens. Leaders shepherd by example – how they live out their faith, how they pray, how they study the Bible and the evidence of the Holy Spirit in their lives – which will do more to build the congregation than any sermon.

Stay humble. Why do you desire a bigger church? Is it so that you’ll look better in your own eyes and in the eyes of other pastors? Is it so you can create better programs or produce better funding? If it is for any reason other than to bring glory to God, then you’ll need to change your focus to see your church the way God sees it.

Focus on maturity. When you’re working out, you can see a visible difference in your muscles and fitness. When members of your congregation begin speaking up about insights in their personal Bible study, when they take the lead in offering to pray for a situation, when they ask about starting a ministry God has put in their hearts, you’re seeing your congregation flexing its spiritual muscles and fitness.

Delegate. The temptation in a small church is for the pastor to do everything. Begin developing leadership in your congregation and delegate tasks appropriately to their skills and gifts. As they prove faithful in small things, give them bigger items to manage. The pastor’s job in shepherding the flock is to make sure everyone is taken care of. He can’t do that if he is also running every meeting, organizing every event and sweeping the floors. Delegating allows pastors and leaders to focus on people rather than the programs.

Encourage. Speak positively about the congregation, praise effusively and celebrate successes. Celebrating and encouraging are biblical principles.

Point to God. Always stay aware and keep the congregation aware that everything the church does is for the glory of God and should point people to the Kingdom of God. “See, I have taught you decrees and laws as the Lord my God commanded me, so that you may follow them in the land you are entering to take possession of it. Observe them carefully, for this will show your wisdom and understanding to the nations, who will hear about all these decrees and say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people. What other nation is so great as to have their gods near them the way the Lord our God is near us whenever we pray to him?’” (Deut. 4:5-7)

When you take your eyes off the numbers and begin focusing on these things, you’ll develop a stronger, fitter, healthier congregation that is mature in serving the Lord. But you’ll probably also start to see something else happen – growth. Christians who are mature in the Lord will reach out to other people and begin telling them about what He means to them and why they serve Him.

But even if the “scales” show the same number, as they did for my friend, you’ll know that you’re much healthier and stronger than before.

 

Gary Kauffman is a freelance writer, photographer and Bible teacher in North Augusta, S.C.

Slaughter of the Innocent: Nigerian Christians Need Our Help

A Christian church in Nigeria. Many Nigerian Christians are being persecuted for their faith. Photo by E Kolk95 from WikiMedia

Want to find out what Princess Kate is wearing or the latest outrageous thing Miley Cyrus has said or done? Chances are good you’ll find out on the evening news or as a top internet story. On the other hand, if you want to find out about Boko Haram slaughtering Christians and kidnapping adolescent and teenage girls to use as servants, sex slaves and suicide bombers, you’ll probably have to search a little harder.

In fact, you may not even know what I’m talking about when I say Boko Haram. They are a militant Islamic terrorist group in Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country. For the past several years they have been trying to overthrow the Nigerian government to turn the entire country into a militant state. They have killed thousands – it has been estimated they killed more than 4,000 in just 2014 alone, and they’ve murdered many more since.

They have openly declared war on Nigerian Christians and hundreds, if not thousands, of Christians are among those they’ve killed. But they have also targeted Muslims who do not go along with their violent outlook and anything else they consider marks of Western civilization (in a local language, Boko Haram means “Western education is forbidden”).

Perhaps most disturbing is that they are now using these young girls as suicide bombers.

Along the way, Boko Haram has kidnapped hundreds of girls, some as young as 7, to serve as cooks, servants and “wives” for their soldiers. Perhaps most disturbing, though, is that they are now using these young girls as suicide bombers. They strap explosive-filled vests on them and send them into a targeted area – sometimes the girls know what they’re doing, other times not. So far at least 145 girls have been used in this way – probably a low estimate – and have taken the lives of hundreds more. Targets have included government centers, Christian centers, even a mosque. It also included a wedding, although a dog heroically stopped the girl before she could enter the ceremony and detonate the explosives.

Boko Haram recently sent out a request to Muslims who are in agreement with their way of thinking: Donate your young girls to use on suicide bombing missions. Yes, they want parents to willing sacrifice their daughters in this way.

Tragic, you may say, but why should we be concerned about some tiny little country half-a-world away?

Well, Nigeria isn’t exactly tiny. At 357,669 square miles, it is larger than Texas and nearly the size of the combination of South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, North Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky and Virginia. Nigeria has a population of 193.5 million, ranked seventh in the world, which is more than half of the United States population (the population for the seven states mentioned above is a combined 47.3 million, so it has four times as many people as that area). Nigeria has a GDP (the nation’s contribution to world wealth) of $1.125 billion, which ranks it in the top 25 in the world.

Still not convinced of the need? Consider that we have been involved in helping straighten out Iraq and Afghanistan for more than 15 years, and are still sending troops there on a regular basis. Nigeria is far larger than either of those countries, more than twice the size of Iraq – in fact, it has nearly the land size of the two countries combined (it is 85 percent the size of those two).

When it comes to population, Afghanistan and Iraq combined have a third as many people as Nigeria. Their GDP combined is barely half of Nigeria’s. You might suspect oil has a lot to do with why we’re more interested in Iraq and Afghanistan, but Nigeria ranks 11th in oil reserves, right behind the United States (Afghanistan has no known oil reserves).

As Christians, we should be especially concerned. At least 40 percent of the country is identified as Christian, about equal to the number of Muslims.

We certainly can communicate with people in Nigeria – the country’s official language is English.

And as Christians, we should be especially concerned. At least 40 percent of the country is identified as Christian, about equal to the number of Muslims, compared to just 3 percent in Iraq and less than 1 percent in Afghanistan. This isn’t too surprising since the area of West Africa where Nigeria is located is experiencing some of the fastest growth in Christianity in the world.

So these are our brothers and sisters who are suffering torture and death simply because they have chosen to follow Christ as their Lord. They are already crying out to the Lord to avenge their blood. Rev. 6:9-10 says, “When He opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the people slaughtered because of God’s word and the testimony they had. They cried out with a loud voice: ‘Lord, the One who is holy and true, how long until You judge and avenge our blood from those who live on the earth?’” God gives them white robes and urges them to be patient until the end of this world, but that doesn’t mean He isn’t calling us into action now.

What can we do as Christians to help our brothers and sisters in Nigeria?

Pray. First of all, pray. Not just praying for the persecution to stop, but for God to raise up laborers – based on the growth in the neighboring countries, many people in that area of Africa are interested in Christianity, despite the threat of persecution.

Donate. Then consider donating to those who are already helping the persecuted. A list of some of those groups appears at the end of the blog. I have not vetted them for their effectiveness in getting mission dollars to where they’re needed most, so check them out, as you should with any organization, before donating.

Write. On the political front, urge your senators and representatives to consider what actions can be taken to help the Nigerians. While I don’t believe the United States should be the world’s police officer, it does seem like our resources could be more wisely allocated in a country like Nigeria than in the Middle East.

Action. Be open to taking action. Whether through advocacy here in the United States or in ministering in Nigeria itself, be open to God’s call to action in your life.

Left untreated, even a small cut can lead to an infection that threatens the entire body.

In 1 Cor. 12:26, Paul tells us that if one member of the body suffers, then all members suffer. Sometimes that’s hard to remember, if the cut is small. But left untreated, even a small cut can lead to an infection that threatens the entire body. Right now, to Christians in the United States the persecution in Nigeria may seem like a small cut to the body, but how long before it becomes an infection that threatens us all? And I guarantee to the Christians in Nigeria and its neighboring countries, this is far more than a cut. It’s a major wound. They are suffering; we must help.

 

Groups Supporting Persecuted Christians

The Voice of Martyrs (persecution.com)

Open Doors (opendoorsusa.org)

Christian Aid Mission (christianaid.org)

Frontline Missions International (frontlinemissions.info)

Rescue Christians (rescuechristians.org)

I Commit to Pray (icommittopray.com)

Did I Say That? Our Words Will Have Eternal Consequences

Time can never mend
The careless whispers of a good friend
To the heart and mind – Careless Whisper

Back in 1984, the group Wham! (yes, with an exclamation point), featuring George Michael, had a huge hit with the song Careless Whisper. The song is basically about a man cheating on his wife or girlfriend, who apparently learned about it by overhearing a careless whisper to the new lover. It speaks about how much those careless words can damage a person’s heart and mind.

Of course, we’ve also long heard the old adage, “Sticks and stones can break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” But at least according to one authority other than George Michael, careless words can have a long-lasting impact. And since that authority is Jesus, we would be wise to pay attention.

In Matthew 12:33-35, Jesus talks about fruit trees – a good tree can only produce good fruit, a bad tree can only produce bad fruit. The trees, of course, are us. Jesus goes on to say that we will speak what is in our hearts – good words can’t come from an evil heart.

Then in verses 36 and 37 he says, “I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.” (ESV)

The word translated as careless is the Greek word argon, which some versions translate as empty or idle, and can also mean lazy. So what does it mean to speak careless, empty, lazy words?

These words often hurt the person they’re spoken to – and, Jesus seems to be saying, you don’t get a free pass just because you didn’t mean them to be hurtful.

In the context, we can infer that they are not good words – they come from a heart that is not right with God. These words may be blurted out without thought of their effect on others or be reactionary, angry responses based on another’s words or actions. These words often hurt the person they’re spoken to – and, Jesus seems to be saying, you don’t get a free pass just because you didn’t mean them to be hurtful. That’s part of being careless and lazy – not taking the time to think about how your words will be perceived.

Paul had a lot to say about words as well. In Romans 1 and 1 Corinthians 12, for example, he lists several areas of speech among unrighteous acts: Slander, deceit, quarreling, outbursts of anger, boasting and gossiping. He warns Timothy twice about not speaking with irreverent, empty words. And John, in 1 John, implies that love that is based on speech only rather than accompanied by action is empty.

On the other hand, Paul says our speech should be an example to other believers (1 Tim. 4:12) and should be full of grace, seasoned in salt (Col. 4:6), meaning it should be thought out with words that enhance others. We are to speak the truth in speech, Psalms and songs; we are to speak the gospel fearlessly and boldly; and we are to be quick to hear and slow to speak.

Our words will be used to either justify us or condemn us on the Day of Judgment.

With TV, radio, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, we are so surrounded by words that we become inured to their affect. They’re here for a moment and then vanish. But Jesus clearly says everything we say will have an eternal impact. Our words will be used to either justify us or condemn us on the Day of Judgment.

That angry remark you made to your spouse, the little white lie you told your parents, the flirtatious words to that cute new employee at work all may seem like innocent words, just words, that don’t mean anything. Except that Jesus said they do matter – a lot.

But, fortunately, so do the words of encouragement you spoke to your neighbor, the kind words you told your child, the loving words you expressed to your spouse. We just need to make sure we think before we speak.

In the song, George Michael’s careless whisper had a negative impact – he was left with no one to dance with. Jesus said that your words will determine who you’ll have as a dance partner for eternity.

Truth in Love Goes Far Deeper than a Polite Way to Insult Someone

“Hey, Harold, I gotta tell you, that is a really ugly paint job on your car. Just speaking the truth in love, bro.”

“Oh Maude, honey, that hairstyle is all wrong for you. I’m just speaking the truth in love, dear.”

You’ve probably heard comments like this before from fellow Christians – the insult couched in terms of Eph. 4:15, which tells us to “speak the truth in love.” After all, if we add that it’s true and we say it with love, it’s not really an insult, right? We’re just doing what the Bible says.

Now, it may be true that orange was a poor choice for Harold’s Buick, or that Maude’s latest trip to the beauty parlor was less than successful. But Eph. 4:15 is not a license to politely insult someone. In fact, telling someone a fact about themselves that may be socially awkward or offends our personal taste is not at all what Paul was talking about in Ephesians 4. That is one of the dangers of plucking a verse – or in this case, part of a verse – out of context.

Ephesians 3 ends with Paul’s prayer that the church members be strengthened through the Holy Spirit and that they realize the fullness of God. He continues this thought at the beginning of chapter 4, urging the Ephesians to walk worthy of their calling. He then lists some of the gifts of the Spirit which are to be used to build up the church body into a mature faith.

The word “Instead” (“But” or “Rather” in other versions) is critical to understanding this passage.

In Eph. 4:14 he explains why this mature faith is important. “Then we will no longer be immature like children. We won’t be tossed and blown about by every wind of new teaching. We will not be influenced when people try to trick us with lies so clever they sound like the truth.” (NLT)

Paul follows that with “Instead, we will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church.” (NLT)

The word “Instead” (“But” or “Rather” in other versions) is critical to understanding this passage. Paul is contrasting how we, as Christians, should speak so that we won’t be influenced by the clever lies that sound so good.

The truth Paul refers to is Jesus. Jesus proclaimed that he is the truth (John 14:6) and throughout the Gospel of John Jesus tells us that we are to worship in truth, that when we have the truth we will walk in the light, that the truth will set us free and that we are sanctified in the truth. Jesus said that he came into the world to testify to the truth, and that everyone who is of the truth listens to his voice (John 18:37).

Speaking the truth in love is to be a constant reminder of who we are now in Christ.

So when Paul tells us to “speak the truth in love,” he is saying we are to speak about Jesus and the truth he testified about – that he is the Son of God who died for our sins and whose resurrection gives us a new life for all of eternity. Speaking the truth in love is to be a constant reminder of who we are now in Christ. We speak what we know to be true so that we won’t fall for those clever lies. When we do this in love, as opposed to having a critical spirit, it helps us grow in our faith and motivates us to do good works (Heb. 10:24).

Speaking the truth in love, therefore, has nothing to do with pointing out the odd quirks or poor tastes of our fellow believers. It’s about pointing out the truth about Jesus. Speaking this truth to our fellow believers helps us grow, helps us to become more like Jesus and keeps us from believing things that sound good but aren’t really true.

Pontius Pilate famously asked, “What is truth?” We don’t have to ask that question because we already know the answer. The truth is Jesus.

What Will Your Church Look Like 10 Years From Now?

Ten years is a relatively short span, a mere blip in world history, but a lot of things can change drastically in that time.

In 2007, Donald Trump was just a businessman, the Chicago Cubs were the worst team in the National League and there was no YouVersion Bible app – because there were no apps. The first iPhone wouldn’t be released until June 29, 2007, and it was more than a year before an Android smart phone hit the market.

Fast forward to 2027 – what will the reality be 10 years from now that may seem fantastical to us today, or something that hasn’t even hit our brain cells yet as a possibility?

What’s clear is that what has worked in churches the past 10 or 20 years will not work in most churches in 2027.

One thing for certain is that the makeup of church congregations will be markedly different in 2027. The Greatest Generation will be gone, Baby Boomers will be in their 60s and 70s (and even 80s) and Gen Xers will be nearing retirement age. Millennials, in their 30s and 40s, will be the movers and shakers of the world. Generation Z, the school-age children of today, will be in their 20s, just starting to make their mark on the world.

Churches have to choose today if they will be visionary or reactionary – will they plan for a decade into the future, or be content to just react to what happens when it happens? Because, whether we like it or not, things will change.

One change could be a drastic decrease in church attendance. Millennials and Gen Z are second, third and even fourth generations of never having been in church for anything other than a wedding or funeral. Astonishing as it may seem, many in Gen Z know nothing about Jesus and have never seen a Bible.

What’s clear is that what has worked in churches the past 10 or 20 years will not work in most churches in 2027. A generation that has grown up with YouTube, high definition screens and on-demand information through apps and the internet are unlikely to be wowed by a praise band with a smoke machine and a three-point sermon outline.

Church settings will be more like Starbucks than the large department store feel of many of today’s megachurches.

Probably no generation has been better surveyed and researched than Millennials. After reading a number of these surveys, and having worked with a typical Millennial for more than a year, I can say this – I am excited about this generation. I believe that there may never be a generation that is a better fit for Christianity than the Millennials. Here are some reasons why I believe this:

  • They are tired of fake news. Christianity offers the truth.
  • They want a sense of belonging. Christianity offers the ministry of the church body.
  • They want a sense of having a larger purpose in life. Christianity offers the ministry of spiritual gifts.
  • They desire to make a difference locally and in the world. Christianity offers community outreach and missions.
  • They are generally optimistic about life. Christianity offers them the Hope to be optimistic about.
  • They are innovative. Churches continually need to discover new ways to reach a lost world.

But one thing I’m sure of – Millennials won’t fit into the typical American “we’ve always done it this way” church mold. Here are some ideas of what churches might need to change or add in the next 10 years:

  • Meet in small, more intimate settings in urban areas. Church settings will be more like Starbucks than the large department store feel of many of today’s megachurches.
  • An increase in community and social involvement events. This includes an emphasis on active experience and mission over routine event attendance.
  • Sunday morning will probably not be the prime worship time for Millennials. Sunday afternoon or weekday evening worship services will become more popular.
  • Don’t expect long-term commitments to church. Millennials want to experience many aspects of life, which includes frequent changes in jobs and plans to move about every three years. Churches can begin developing them into potential church planters.
  • Because many Millennials will enter the church with limited knowledge and because they enjoy being mentored, intentional discipleship will be an important part of church life.
  • Develop a sense of family. Millennials are staying single much longer, and many were raised in non-traditional and single-parent homes and long for a sense of family.
  • Focus on the uniqueness of Jesus Christ, especially on his resurrection and the hope for the future. Because other religions worship God or a supreme being, the life, death and resurrection of Jesus is the defining feature of Christianity.
  • Be open to the newest innovations. Just like 10 years ago we would not have anticipated the popularity of smart phones and apps, there may be new technology coming over the next few years that will revolutionize how the gospel is delivered.

The American church has typically been resistant to changes, but the next decade could truly be a change-or-die situation for many churches.

What exactly those changes will be may not be clear now, but the rising generations favor passion and experiences, making connections and being involved in projects that change the community and the world. Churches who can present the gospel in those contexts will be the ones who will have the greatest growth in 2027. It just may be delivered via virtual reality goggles accompanied by hip-hop music.