Friday, September 28, 2007

Prayer for the Church in Bulgaria

I want to pass along to you a notice I received yesterday from the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ; http://www.aclj.org/):

"As an important member of the ACLJ, one who is committed to the causes of life and liberty, I knew you would want to be made aware of an incident in the European country of Bulgaria - a dangerous attack on religious freedom, in which churches were raided and church leaders were viciously beaten.

"Our European Centre for Law and Justice (ECLJ) is engaged in this case which represents, to date, the largest religious freedoms damages claim ever argued at the European Court of Human Rights. Although this is a battle being waged on another shore, it is a fight that shares YOUR vision for religious liberty and YOUR hope for all to enjoy the right to worship without discrimination or persecution. We MUST help to protect people of faith on an international scale.

"Let me explain what is happening: In July 2004, 250 Holy Synod churches (part of the Alternative Bulgarian Orthodox Church movement) were raided by Bulgarian authorities without a court warrant. Priests were forcefully removed from their churches and beaten if they resisted arrest. The church raids and priest removals were done as part of a government crackdown on religious freedom. This violent action was condemned by the Helsinki Commission.

"Following this outrageous government action against the Alternative Orthodox Church, the ECLJ and attorney Latchezar Popov brought suit at the European Court of Human Rights (the ''Supreme Court'' of Europe). Since then, the ECLJ and its partnering European attorneys have been vigorously working on the case to be heard in European Court and filing necessary paperwork to ensure its admission.

"We have just received word that the case has, in fact, been admitted. This very involved and heated case is crucial to the protection of religious rights in Europe. The judgment could largely determine the future of critical church freedoms in Bulgaria."

Let's join our brothers & sisters in praying for God's favor in their case, and for the salvation of their prosecutors.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

The Peace of God, the God of Peace

Some of you know that lately I've been reading Jerehiah Burroung's book The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment (Banner of Truth, 1964, original, 1648). Every once in a while I come across a book that makes me want plead with people to read it--this is one of those books. Please buy and carefully read this book. Believe me, it willl be worth your money and your time.

Here's how he defines contentment: "Christian contentment is that sweet, inward, quiet, gracious frame of spirit, which freely submits to and delights in God's wise and fatherly disposal in every condition." And to be well skilled in this "mystery of contentment" is "the duty, glory, and excellence of a Christian" (19).

He has much to say about what contentment is and how we are to pursue it, but the pinacle of his argument is that it is found in God--not in what God gives, but in God himself. Thereby he comes to this conclusion: the Christian is both the most satisfied and the most unsatisfied person in the world.

"If [a Christian person] had the quintessence of all the excellences of all the creatures in the world, it could not satisfy him; and yet this man can sing, and be merry and joyful when he has only a crust of bread and a little water in the world. Surely religion is a great mystery! Great is the mystery of godliness, not only in the doctrinal part of it, but in the practical part of it also...A little in the world will content a Christian for his passage, but all the world, and ten thousand times more, will not content a Christian for his portion...A soul that is capable of God can be filled with nothing else but God; nothing but God can fill a soul that is capable of God" (43).

Then he quotes Philippians 4:7-9 and concludes, "Here is what I would observe from the text, That the peace of God is not enough to a gracious heart except it may have the God of the peace" (44).

The Christian will not be satisfied with peace from God--he must have God! And when he does have God he has peace, because the peace of God is simply an inward fruit of authentic communion with God, in Christ.

Christian, are you feeling discontent? Anxious? Worried? Angry? Seek your contentment, your peace, your all in God! It is him that you need. All of the things of this world will never satisfy you--go after God, in Christ, with passion and intensity, with commitment and sincerity. Settle for no less than communion with God himself and your soul will find what it's longing for.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

A Massive Machine & the Pursuit of God

What takes 20 years, costs $8 billion, and the efforts of physicists from over 60 countries? Seriously, any guesses?

It’s called the Large Hadron Colider. It’s located 300 feet below the ground near the west end of Lake Geneva in Switzerland. It’s a massive, circular cylinder that is 17 miles in diameter. It has been touted as the most complicated thing human beings have ever built.

And what’s the point of it? Scientists are purposely colliding sub-atomic particles at speeds near the speed of light to see what will happen and what they can learn about the nature of matter. It amazed me to see one of the leading scientists on the project admit in print that they have no idea what the outcome of this experiment will be—I mean, can you imagine spending $8 billion for something you just hoped would be meaningful? But then again, the last time these particular scientists put their heads together they developed the World Wide Web. (Sorry to burst your bubble, Al Gore was not responsible for the information super-highway!)

By the way, I got all of this from the August 2007 issue of Discover Magazine, “The Biggest Thing in Physics” (page 45-49). You can visit the official project website here.

As I read this article the moral of the story became this for me: I don’t always know where my study of Scripture is going to lead me, either. At times I have pursued a train of thought for months, or even years, not knowing what the implications would be but finding out later that it had everything to do with everything!

For instance, a man once said to me, “Why do you care so much about how we were saved? It’s enough for me to know that I am saved. The rest is God’s business.” While I understand his sentiment, I must tell you that the many hours of study I have put into this subject, along with some sleepless nights and heated debates, have paid off for me big time when I was in the throes of difficulties or suffering or opposition or disappointments in my ministry. At times the most impractical-seeming doctrines have been a rock for me.

So, don’t hesitate to explore God to as great of depths as you can! Granted, you cannot always see the end from the beginning, you cannot always know what the outcomes will be. But by his grace God will apply gospel truths to your life in ways that you cannot imagine. And when he does, you will praise and glorify him for it!

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Media, Maturiy, & Missions

In an article entitled “Profile of Students Today: Preparing for Missionary Service” (Evangelical Missions Quarterly, July 2007), Marvin Newell states, “Many late adolescent young people today are four to six years behind the previous generation in sociological and psychological development.” Why is this so? Newell surmises that it’s because young people are saturated in a media culture that is very immature, that they have a vast number of life choices to wade through which, for the most part, their parents did not, and that they suffer from general information overload.

I am most persuaded by his first reason. It calls to mind Psalm 115:4-9: “Their idols are silver and gold, the work of human hands. They have mouths, but do not speak; eyes, but do not see. They have ears, but do not hear; noses, but do not smell. They have hands, but do not feel; feet, but do not walk; and they do not make a sound in their throat. Those who make them become like them; so do all who trust in them. O Israel, trust in the LORD! He is their help and their shield.”

The idols of our culture are different from the ones mentioned here, but the principle remains the same: we will eventually take the shape of the idols, or the God, we worship. And when we allow our children to sit at the feet of the media culture for hours on-end every day—television, internet, video games, iPods, etc.—we set them up to become like the idols they behold.

When you think about this on a mass level, you see that the media choices we make for our children each day have a radical shaping effect on Christian culture and missions. When millions of our children know more about the latest video games than about the mission of God in the world, when they know more about their favorite television personalities than the person of Jesus Christ, we are going to meet with much difficulty when we try to recruit and train and send them to give their lives away for the sake of that mission, and of that person. How shall they be sent to tell of person they don’t really know? How shall they be sent to tell a story they don’t really understand?

All true missions is from the inside out; it is an overflow of love and worship that expresses itself in sharing the mercy one has received from God, in Christ. This cannot happen if our children aren’t being taught to behold the glory of God and to love him more than all else on this earth.

Those of you who know me know that I am not a thoughtless anti-media guy. I think when used cautiously the media can be enjoyed as a blessing from the Lord. I also think it can be used as a tool by which to build bridges into people’s lives and share the gospel with them. But you also know that I’m a big-time pro-Jesus guy who just wants to see parents and children love him more than anything else in their lives, including the internet and video games. The more eternal your God, the more eternal your joy. Media culture is far from eternal and therefore its joy is as fleeting as a vapor. Jesus Christ is eternal and therefore his joy is everlasting. All I want is maximum joy for our children and for the world!

Parents, I’m sure it’s obvious enough that the burden of all of this falls on us. We simply must take the lead and teach our children to recognize, articulate, prize, and praise the glory of God in all they do. And, of course, in order to do this, we’ll have to learn to do it ourselves. “O Israel [O Christian parents], trust in the LORD! He is their help and their shield.” Behold the Lord and you will become like him. You will become willing to follow wherever he leads you. Your God-given passion will bleed into the hearts of the next generation.

There’s much more at stake in the great commandment than we know, isn’t there? “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. 7 You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.” (Deuteronomy 6:4-7).

Monday, September 24, 2007

Scientists on Religion

Last night I read an article in Scientific American called, “Should Science Speak to Faith: Two Prominent Defenders of Science Exchange their Views on how Scientists Ought to Approach Religion and its Followers” (July, 2007). That was the wrong title. It should have been called, “How Science Can Put Ignorant Theists (mainly Christians) in Their Place: Two Defenders of Science Discuss Their Respective Strategies.”

The first defender, Lawrence M. Krauss, a leading American physicist, suggested that scientists have to woo their dissenters and reach out to those who (ignorantly) believe in such foolish myths as god. At one point he actually put those who believe in God in the same category as those who believe in flying saucers! His strategy for wooing us? Don’t outright condemn them, just help them to see that their beliefs are irrational and guide them into a more general belief in God. In other words, tolerate them as long as they don’t actually believe the specifics of what they believe.

The second defender, Richard Dawkins, author of The God Delusion, was not so gracious. He argued that “tough love” and confrontation are what is in order. Here a couple of quotes from him: “It is absolutely safe to say that if you meet somebody who claims not to believe in evolution, that person is ignorant, stupid or insane (or wicked, but I’d rather not consider that)” (90).

Then, responding to some comments Kraus made about Carl Sagan, Dawkins remarked, “Was Carl Sagan a religious man? He was so much more. He left behind the petty, parochial, medieval world of the conventionally religious; left the theologians, priests and mullahs wallowing in their small-minded spiritual poverty. He left them behind because he had so much more to be religious about. They have their Bronze Age myths, medieval superstitions and childish wishful thinking. He had the universe” (91).

Actually, Mr. Dawkins, we have the God who holds the entire universe in the palm of his hands, who created all things, who rules over religion and science, and to whom Carl Sagan and you and I will one day give an account of our lives.

“For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, ‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.’ Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe” (1 Corinthians 1:18-21).

Amen.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Suffering for the Gospel

Every week I write a short devotional for our church bulletin under the heading of “For the Glory of Christ.” I like that title because I write it primarily for Christ’s glory but also for the church which, if you don’t know, is called Glory of Christ.

This week I wrote about the fact that in order to take the gospel to the world we will have to suffer. I took as my text Ephesians 3:13 which says, “So I ask you not to lose heart over what I am suffering for you, which is your glory.” Then this afternoon I was reading through some notes of mine and I came across this quote from a Chinese house church leader named Brother Yun:

“Every house church pastor in China is ready to lay down his life for the gospel. When we live this way, we’ll see God do great things by his grace…The world can do nothing to a Christian who has no fear of man” (300, 313).

Amen.
At one time the American church was a sort of “parent” to the Chinese church. Now, it seems, the situation is quite the opposite. May we follow our faithful brothers and sisters all the way to death, if we must, that we might receive the crown of life (Revelation 2:10).

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Signs of Coming Persecution?

Yesterday I read the August 2007 edition of Christianity Today, and a few stories really grabbed my attention. The first story (page 13) is about Colorado Christian University, a private-liberal-arts university, who has been denied access to state grants for its students because of “the school’s religious affiliation.” One judge lamented, “even its secular instruction is infused with religious components.” You’ve got to be kidding me, judge, a Christian school teaching all subjects from a Christian perspective? How deplorable.

The second story (page 20) is about James Holsinger, President Bush’s candidate to be Surgeon General of the United States. The problem? Holsinger once wrote a brief for the United Methodist Judicial Council about the dangers of gay sex and the complimentarity of heterosexual sex. The political world is in an uproar.

Jonathan Edwards said of the situation, “In a profession dedicated to healing and compassion, it cannot be hard to find a qualified candidate for surgeon general who sees all human beings as equals…Holsinger’s anti-gay writings and beliefs suggest that he will undermine, not advance, the cause of equality and fairness in health care.”

What about the cause of morality and the right to free speech?

The third story (page 14) is about Pakistan’s controversial blasphemy laws which “have been used against Christians in two recent incidents.” In the first incident, Younis Masih was sentenced to death for allegedly making derogatory comments about Muhammad, and in the second incident the government temporarily shut down a nursing school and suspended five Christian workers because Muslim students complained that the Christians had “defaced the Qur’an.”

And to make matters worse, the Pakistani Parliament “is considering a law that would outlaw apostasy. Men who convert from Islam to any other religion would get the death penalty; women would receive life imprisonment.”

On the one hand, it seems that the United States is worlds away from the violent bigotry of a Pakistan, but on the other hand, are we really all that far away? Our litmus test is not Islam or any other particular religion, I’ll grant you that, and we’re not executing people for dissent. But our litmus test is “tolerance” and in the name of tolerance Christians are being marginalized, maligned, and dismissed as intolerant bigots. They are being denied access to funding sources and positions of power and who knows what else.

Who would have thought even ten years ago that taking a traditional, Christian stand on issues like homosexuality would eventuate in exclusion from the resources of our culture and excommunication from the systems of our culture? Who would have thought that the seeds of Judeo-Christian morality, sown in mass by previous generations, would be wiped out in such a short period of time? But that’s the reality in which we’re living today, and I fear that it will only get worse.

As Christians living in this culture at this time, we need to prepare ourselves to stand in the midst of a great, coming storm. We need to hold true to the faith once for all delivered to the saints without becoming callous and vengeful toward those who are persecuting us. Like Stephen standing before his executors, we need to pray, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they’re doing.” We need to stand against our enemies and love our enemies at the same time.
In other words, we need tremendous grace and power from the Lord in times like this.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Resurrection of my Blog

And with this entry, my blog is officially resurrected!!! The early days of starting a new church are overwhelmingly busy and one of the casualties of my busyness has been this blog. But alas, I am back and plan to begin blogging as near to daily as I can. Please pray for me as I seek the Lord with all of my heart and then simply blog and teach and preach and disciple as an overflow of what the Lord is teaching me.

This reminds me of a passage I read from Isaiah 50 this morning; it's a marvelous text for preachers or teachers or Christian leaders:

"The Lord GOD has given me the tongue of those who are taught, that I may know how to sustain with a word him who is weary. Morning by morning he awakens; he awakens my ear to hear as those who are taught. The Lord GOD has opened my ear, and I was not rebellious; I turned not backward" (Is. 50:4-5).

Oh Lord, may I also be not rebellious but rather open my mouth wide to receive from you, and open my hands wide to give freely even as it was freely given to me. And may this be true of all who love your name and your coming!