Category Archives: Church

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.