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Stand Firm in the Faith!

30 Sep

I have continued to meditate on 1 Corinthians 16:13-14 over the last several weeks, but have fallen down on the job of blogging about it.  These two verses are a series of brief, pointed commands.  And I believe that they outline some of the key elements to being a strong disciple of Jesus in today’s world.

Here it is in the Holman Christian Standard Bible translation:

“Be alert, stand firm in the faith, act like a man, be strong. Your every [action] must be done with love.”  –1 Corinthians 16:13-14

“Stand firm in the faith” has taken on new meaning for me as I have been following the story of Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani in Iran over the past several days.  This young Iranian pastor has refused to recant his faith in Christ.  As a result today the Iranian courts have sentenced him to death.  Whether this will stand, or will be repealed, remains to be seen.  The international community has risen up in united outrage over this blatant violation of basic human rights.  With this outcry and God’s people in earnest prayer, hopefully Pastor Nadarkhani will indeed be released.

This man is a living example of what it means to “stand firm in the faith.”  He willingly risks losing his life for the sake of the Gospel of Christ.  He would rather die than deny his Lord and Savior.  THAT is true faith!  C.S. Lewis once said,

“You never know how much you really believe anything
until its truth or falsehood becomes a matter of life and death to you.”

I hope that you will join me in prayer for Pastor Nadarkhani and all Christians facing persecution for their faith.  Here are some other things you can do with your church and youth group:

  • PRAY with your youth, Sunday School class, and church.
  • Educate them with help from Voice of the Martyrs and many other organizations out there.  I’ve recently discovered a powerful documentary entitled Love Costs Everything.  Below is the trailer:
  • Discuss with your group the difference it would make if they lived in a place where being a Christian was dangerous.  How do they stand firm in their faith?  How does that compare to how people like Pastor Nadarkhani stand firm in the faith?
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If the Church Is Against Us, Who Then Can Stand For Us?

4 Jul

Why is it that so many Christians are against so many things?  It seems that we’re better known for the things we’re against than for the things we’re for!

I started to think about all the things that Christians, churches, denominations, and other Christian groups have been against at one time or another: dancing, rock n roll, card playing, restaurants that serve alcohol, drums in the sanctuary, women who wear pants (or make-up or jewelry), the NIV Bible, women deacons, women ministers, Disney, Twilight, Harry Potter, Democrats…I could go on.

Now, I’m not saying that there aren’t sins and social issues that the people of God should take a stand on and fight for what’s right and true.  And I know there’s a lot of difference of opinion among Christians as to what those issues are and are not.  What I’m taking issue with is the sheer number and superficiality of things Christians tend to be against these days.

So I got to thinking: What kind of things was Jesus against?  Let’s take a quick look.

Right off the bat, I can easily see that Jesus is against sickness and death, because He keeps healing people and raising the dead.  He’s apparently against hunger and thirst, because He feeds people and declares He is the Living Water with whom no one will thirst again. 

From Jesus’ “Sermon on the Mount” found in Matthew 5-7, we see Jesus is against pridefulness, unforgiviness, anger and hatred toward others, lustful hearts, divorce, being untrustworthy, hypocrisy, self-righteousness, greed, divided loyalty, worry, the illusion of self-sufficiency, being judgmental, and lip service.  Hmmm….not a single mention of drinking, gambling, secular music, or Harry Potter.  Interesting.

On multiple occasions, we find Jesus eating dinner with the worst sinners…among them prostitutes, tax collectors, drunks, gamblers, you name it!  And we never once see Jesus rebuke them, preach against the “wiles of the devil” to them, or even give them a “tisk tisk. Shame on you.”  Instead, Jesus loves them.  Jesus affirms them as human beings made in God’s image.  He FORGIVES them!  He tells their accusers, “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone” (John 8:7)  He doesn’t condemn!  He isn’t AGAINST them…He’s FOR them!

In fact, the only group I can find in all the Gospels that Jesus is against…are the religious leaders!  The pious, “holier than thou” Pharisees and Sadducees are the ones Jesus has the only things to say AGAINST.  He calls them a brood of vipers (Matt. 23:33), they’re the “blind leading the blind” (Matt. 23:24).  They are wolves in sheep’s clothing (Matt. 7:15), not to be trusted. They actually make it hard for people to come to God (Matt. 23:13-15).  Jesus calls them hypocrites and the children of Satan (Matt. 23)!

I can’t help but feel that the Pharisees were known for what (and who) they were against.  They were against the Romans, the prostitutes, the drunks, the Gentiles, the tax collectors, those who work a little too hard on the Sabbath, and of course…Jesus.  Maybe they led boycotts, had protest rallies, and preached about everyone else’s wickedness.

Funny how Jesus and His followers didn’t do any of that.  Funny that when Jesus preaches a “Woe unto you” sermon, it was to the religious people.  I guess you could say that the only people Jesus was against were those who were against people.

Are there some things in this world worth standing against? Of course. Are there any people groups worth standing against? Certainly not!  The Church of Jesus must be very careful about what we stand against, lest we become white noise no one pays attention to.  And we must be very careful never to stand against anyone…for every person is a person for whom Jesus died.

Let’s be like Jesus!  He wasn’t known for what He was against, but for what He was for!  Even in the Sermon on the Mount I mentioned above, those things I said Jesus was against were framed in the positive.  He didn’t preach a bunch of “don’ts.” He laid out the kind of things we are to DO!  When we DO the right things, and love everyone, the “don’ts” become obvious.

Remember, Jesus said He didn’t come into the world to condemn it, but so that it might be saved (John 3:17). And in the verse before that one, Jesus reminds us God actually LOVES the world!  So if the CHURCH…the last, best hope for the world, is always standing AGAINST the world, then what hope does the world really have?  Satan is our enemy.  Not the people of the world.  Paul wrote, “If God is for us, who can stand against us? (Rom. 8:31)”  What about this question asked from the world’s perspective, “If the Church of Jesus is for us, who can stand against us?  If the Church of Jesus stands against us, who can stand for us?”  The World needs us! 

So…what and who are we standing FOR?  Let’s make the world sit up and take notice of those things!

Is It Taboo to Share Your Faith?

13 Jan

I was amazed the other week to see Brit Hume on Fox News Sunday openly declare Tiger Woods need for what Christianity offers:  hope, forgiveness, and a fresh start.  Not only did Hume talk about the Christian faith in a positive light, but he also criticized Wood’s Buddhist faith as incomplete.

In todays politically correct atmosphere, where Christianity is seen as the crutch for gun-totin’ rednecks and simple-minded Americans in fly-over-country, that was a HUGE taboo!  And the media and blogosphere reacted vigorously to it.

It raises a good question, both for discussing with our students, and for thinking through ourselves:   When, where, and how can we witness for Christ in an appropriate manner?

Here is a fantastic article about  this from the Associated Baptist Press:  “Opinion: Brit Hume, Tiger Woods, and Evangelsim”

The author, Jim Denison, breaks evangelism down into two approaches–coersive and conversational.  Of course, conversational evangelism would be the appropriate method.  But how do we determine if we are being coercive or conversational in our witnessing?

Denison gives a couple of tests:  First, have you earned the right to share your faith?  Have you done the hard work to earn the right to be heard?

Second, does your life match your words?  Are you consistently living out the faith you are sharing with others?

If you answer “no” to either of these, Denison says you’re not being genuine in your evangelism, you aren’t engaging people in an honest conversation about life and faith, and therefore you are more likely to be coercive.   And by coercive, he means you are using your power or authority (real or perceived) to manipulate, guilt, scare, or force people into faith in Christ.

I encourage you to read his article, and pay special attention to what he says about Hume in the last paragraph.  It may give you a different perspective on him and what he said on national TV.

But finally, ask yourself:  Do I employ coercive methods of evangelism with the students in my ministry?  Or am I building the kind of relationships and living the kind of life that earns me the right to speak truth into their lives?  Am I manipulating and scaring students “into the Kingdom” or inviting them into a conversation about their spiritual journey?

And use this current news item to engage your students in a discussion about how they share their faith (or what keeps them from sharing their faith).  That kind of honest, healthy discussion can do more than all the “evangelism training” in the world.

What’s the Deal with St. Patrick’s Day?

17 Mar

St. Patrick’s Day evokes so many different images and ideas:  Leprechauns and Lucky Charms cereal, pots of gold at the end of rainbows, shamrocks and Blarney Stones, rivers died green, parades, and don’t forget pints o’ beer and Irish pubs.

But why do we honor St. Patrick with his own day anyway?  And for that matter, who was the guy?  Here’s a brief synopsis, as only a 21st century-vegetable inspired-digitally enhanced-flanelgraph can illustrate:

Allow me a moment to share with you a few thoughts about this great man of faith and service to God’s Kingdom:

First, remember that God loves to use ordinary men and women, and boys and girls, to do extraordinary things.  And not just in Bible times, either.  Throughout church history, and even today, God calls ordinary people to carry out His work and will.

 

Patrick once wrote,

“I am Patrick, a sinner, most uncultivated

and the least of all the faithful …very little educated…

like a stone that lies in deep mud.”

While his peers where studying and traveling Europe getting an education, Patrick was tending sheep and fighting off ticks.  In his old age, Patrick mourned the fact that he missed out on a proper education.  In other words, he was no whiz in the classroom…but God chose to use him anyway.  What might God be calling YOU to do for Him to help reach our pagan nation?  It doesn’t matter WHO you are…so along as you know WHOSE you are!  It doesn’t matter WHAT you know so much as WHO you know!

 

The truth is, you don’t need book knowledge to be a prayer warrior—and that’s what Patrick was.  More than 100 prayers every day!  And why did he pray so much?  Patrick said the reason was “because the Spirit was glowing in me!  And it would set all Ireland on fire with him!

 

But before that happened, Patrick escaped back to his homeland (with a small detour in France).  I love that when Patrick’s faith in God was challenged by hungry sailors mockingly asking him to pray for God to give them food, he did!  And with that demonstration of amazing faith in the midst of ridicule…God provided a herd of pigs for them to feast on!  What a challenge to us when we feel mocked, ridiculed, or put on the spot.  We should follow Patrick’s example and stand our ground and put our faith into action, trusting that God will work.

 

Patrick, like Moses, was a simple, uneducated servant of God.  He wasn’t eloquent in his speech (Exodus 4:10-12).  In fact, there were probably many more logical choices God could have made in choosing His missionary to the Irish people.  But God revels in doing what’s illogical and unexpected.  God often chooses the weak and foolish of this world, so that God alone receives the glory due to Him.  It’s not about us!  And we need to be careful to not think too highly of ourselves, or too heavily rely upon our abilities, our successes, our intellect, and our ideas.    It’s not about us, but about the Great I AM who is with us and working through us (Jeremiah 1:4-9).

 

So, as you celebrate St. Patrick’s Day with your friends and family today, let me issue you a few challenges:

 

  1. Help others to fully understand who we are remembering and why.  Help spread the Good News that God can work through anyone, as long as they put their faith and trust in Him.
  2. Reflect on your own life, and ask yourself how God can use your past, your experiences, even your failures to impact your world.
  3. Make the commitment to take a leap of faith and obey God’s call to you, whatever it may be.  It may seem crazy now, but like Patrick put your trust in the One who can do crazy, amazing things…even make herds of pigs show up at just the right moment.  Remember, “where God directs…He protects.  Where He guides…He provides.”