Sunday, March 28, 2010

THE PERSECUTION OF CHRISTIANS TODAY



Rev. Johan Candelin writes about the issue of persecution against Christians.  For an interesting perspective on this global reality, read this:

http://jmm.aaa.net.au/articles/15390.htm

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

THE GOOD NEWS THAT INFURIATES GOD'S ENEMIES

 Jesus warned his disciples about the sort of difficulties they would face in His Name.  In sending them like sheep running through a wolf pack, they would face the sufferings that He endured as the human example of the Father’s Love.



Matthew 10:  (The Message)
26-27"Don't be intimidated. Eventually everything is going to be out in the open, and everyone will know how things really are. So don't hesitate to go public now.
 28"Don't be bluffed into silence by the threats of bullies. There's nothing they can do to your soul, your core being.  Save your fear for God, who holds your entire life—body and soul—in his hands.
 29-31"What's the price of a pet canary? Some loose change, right? And God cares what happens to it even more than you do. He pays even greater attention to you, down to the last detail—even numbering the hairs on your head! So don't be intimidated by all this bully talk. You're worth more than a million canaries.
 32-33"Stand up for me against world opinion and I'll stand up for you before my Father in heaven. If you turn tail and run, do you think I'll cover for you?


There is a bullying spirit in the world that cannot tolerate Jesus.  They may take it out on His followers, but ultimately they have a problem with Him.

Instead of living in fear of conflict, we need to take courage from Jesus and live out the good news with freedom and boldness.  We have nothing to be ashamed of in Jesus.

When my son Levi committed his life to following Jesus at age four, the first thing he did was run out on our porch and yell to his next-door buddies, “Hey guys!  I am a Christian!”

I think they yelled back, “So what!  Who cares?”   They didn’t understand, but Levi’s life had been forever altered.

But does the world have a good case against Christians?  Our own hypocrisy and failure sometimes sullies the Name of the Lord.  There are many in the world that rejects Christians by pointing to horrible injustices through history committed by the Church.  They quickly point to the Crusades and the cruelties of medieval Catholicism.  They look at American patriotism and its’ bloodlust for war. 

I too am disheartened by the misrepresentations of Jesus.  I am humbled by my own sin and failures to always follow Jesus.  So what do we do in light of falling short?

When we sin, we need to humble ourselves and confess our faults.  We need to be people who make amends and take responsibility for our debts and wrongdoings. 

But understand this; after you do your part to turn the other cheek and go the extra mile, there may be some who reject you and the Lord you follow.  There will be enemies of the Cross gunning for you.  Pray for them.  God will deal with them as surely as He deals with you.

Do not live in fear of people who intimidate you.  Live with respect for God and let them answer to Him.  Don’t get caught up in trying to be defensive and out-maneuver them.  Speak the truth in love and stand up for the cause of Christ.

What was Jesus getting at when he talked about the birds being sold cheaply?  The cheapest bird in the market was not unimportant to God.  The loss of a bird’s life matters to God.  While this may not be enough reason to become a vegetarian, it should make us think about life’s value to God.  His Creation is good and to kill for food should include respect for the One who gives life.  If God cares about cows and chickens, we should too. 

But, the key point Jesus makes is how God is much more concerned about your life.  The one who counts hairs on your head, lives with a complete awareness of the troubles you face.  You may feel alone in your struggles when people treat you wrong.  God is with you in the struggle and does not miss a detail.

Jesus told them to courageously be about their mission of announcing God’s coming Kingdom.  Don’t be sidelined by bullies who want you to stop doing your life’s work.  Be wise with gentle words and actions.  But do not be silent about what matters. 

Do not hide.  Look for the opportunities to speak up with a message of faith, hope and love.  Jesus said that God would not be ashamed to stand with us.  Why should we be ashamed to stand with Him? 

Saturday, March 20, 2010

TWO HUNDRED MILLION BROTHERS AND SISTERS...




As a boy I remember pondering what to do if someone threatened to kill me unless I deny my faith.  I had read the New Testament accounts of believers being tortured, imprisoned and put to death for holding to their belief in the risen Christ. 

I had enough awareness of history and world events to know that Christians continue to be persecuted.  I wondered if it might happen to me someday.  Childhood fears kept me from openly sharing my beliefs.  Eventually though, I came to realize that it was the duty of all Christians to share the hope that lies within them.  We have the right to tell people the truly good news of God’s Love.

Still, I wonder what the future holds.  There is something in human nature that would nail Jesus to a cross.  That same human nature practices atrocities against Jesus’ followers still today.

I wish it were simply a case of paranoia; perhaps a mistrust that comes of growing up in a closed system - but that would be naïve.  The world is still a dark place where people trying to follow Jesus are hated and given ultimatums.

The Geneva Report 2002[i] revealed that an unprecedented number of Christians now face disinformation, discrimination, and outright persecution worldwide. It detailed specific cases of persecution in India, Greece, Cyprus, Nigeria, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Turkmenistan, China and Sudan. The Religious Liberty Commission of World Evangelical Alliance presented the findings at the United Nations Commission on Human Rights on April 8, 2002.
"We estimate that there are more than 200 million Christians in the world today who do not have full human rights as defined by the UN Declaration of Human Rights, simply because they are Christians. We believe that this is the largest group in the world without full human rights because of their beliefs," states Johan Candelin, director of the WEA Religious Liberty Commission.  Candelin delivered the report to the UN Commission on Human Rights at the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland.
It seems illogical that people who stand for sincerity, honesty, truth, honor, friendship, hard work, and compassion for the weak should be considered to pose a threat to society, or should give rise to feelings of outright hatred. Yet this is often the reason Christians are persecuted. Here are some of the common problems and misconceptions about Christian minority populations:

1) The growing number of Christians is believed to threaten both the national identity and the majority religion. In many cases the two are linked.

2) Christians are often outspoken for democracy and human rights.

3) Christians stand up for those who are broken, weak, handicapped, and for those whose human rights are being violated. In countries where these downtrodden groups make up the majority, those who wield power become very uneasy if any of these groups is caused to stir or to react.

4) Christians supposedly represent a Western influence, especially from the United States.

5) Christians pose a threat to existing links between religion and the economy.

6) Christians cannot be spiritually controlled by the state. They worship "another King."

7) Christians have "contacts" with other Christians around the world.

8) Some naive Christian organizations lack wisdom and cultural understanding, receive support from abroad, and use words like "crusade" and "claiming the territory." These create panic and fear among locals, who interpret them as military terms.

9) Other religions feel directly threatened by the growing Christian church.

10) A poor understanding of real Christianity (disinformation) coupled with uncertainty towards anything new.” [ii]


You are not paranoid if you think that following Jesus can be dangerous.  Two hundred million of our brothers and sisters today know just how dangerous their faith is.  How would our understanding change if we had to face real threats?



[i]The full text of the Geneva Report is available from http://www.worldevangelical.org

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

MY OTHER BLOG - COMMUNITY CHAPLAINS

I have started another blogspot called Community Chaplains .  It will replace the similarly named Community Chaplain over at wordpress.

I like the blogspot features better.

Over the next while, I will reprint articles on chaplaincy and community building.

Pass the link along to anyone you know who works in chaplaincy or faith based community initiatives.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

DEBBIE THE WILDFLOWER


On March 5th, I spoke at the funeral of a fifty-year-old woman named Debbie.  She had attended my church on occasion with her sponsor.

Debbie had a lifelong challenge with an addiction to a variety of hard drugs and her body finally could handle the abuse no longer. 

She was an orphan whose parents had died in 1967.  Grandma raised her until she was on her own.  Her brother and sister carried on lives that she lost track of.  Neither one was there at her funeral since all contact had vanished.

It was a social services funeral with the gray felt coffin and nothing extra.  What made it most unusual, was the fact that the service was held right at the graveside.  In all my years of funerals, I’ve never been to one outside.  Even social service funerals are usually held at funeral homes.

It was a little known cemetery named Fairbairn on Baseline Road near the Windsor airport.  It was a beautiful spring day with thirty or so friends gathered around the open grave. 

Her former partner Ken had told me about this place.  When they were first together, they would take drives in the country.  On several occasions she would ask him to stop the car by this cemetery where her grandmother was buried.  Debbie would go along the ditch gathering wildflowers and then spend a few minutes alone at Grandma’s grave.

In some ways, her life was like a wildflower growing beside the road.  She did not grow in a cultivated garden, but in her struggles and addictions found herself alongside a lonely road.  When she met others who were struggling and vulnerable, she had a heart that cared deeply and wanted to lighten their load.

Peter the disciple compared the shortness of our lives to wildflowers.  In trying to understand the importance of Jesus to our existence, he penned these words:


1 Peter 1:
18-21Your life is a journey you must travel with a deep consciousness of God. It cost God plenty to get you out of that dead-end, empty-headed life you grew up in. He paid with Christ's sacred blood, you know. He died like an unblemished, sacrificial lamb. And this was no afterthought. Even though it has only lately—at the end of the ages—become public knowledge, God always knew he was going to do this for you. It's because of this sacrificed Messiah, whom God then raised from the dead and glorified, that you trust God, that you know you have a future in God.
 22-25Now that you've cleaned up your lives by following the truth, love one another as if your lives depended on it. Your new life is not like your old life. Your old birth came from mortal sperm; your new birth comes from God's living Word. Just think: a life conceived by God himself! That's why the prophet said,

   The old life is a grass life,
      its beauty as short-lived as wildflowers;
   Grass dries up, flowers droop,
      God's Word goes on and on forever.
This is the Word that conceived the new life in you.

Peter is saying that while life is short, the promises of God go on forever.  To have faith in Jesus is to be born again of a higher reality than found in common life. 

When Jesus died, it was comparable to a seed going in the ground.  This common reality comes to us all.  All that we have been must one day die and be buried.

But Jesus rose from the grave.  He was the first example of what God desires to do with us.  The resurrection is a future hope that Christians believe in.  We believe that there is future reality that will be greater than this one. 

Though there be many tragedies in this lifetime, do not lose sight of the beautiful wildflowers like Debbie.  They do not go unnoticed by God.


Friday, March 12, 2010

LOVE IS ENOUGH



 As long as you focus on self or the magnitude of the mission, you will be tempted to back away from the calling in your life.  It’s important not to dramatize or catastrophize, but to think clearly and realistically about the opportunities at hand.  What can you do today?  Who can you reach out to?  Who has God nudged you to bring hope to?

Matthew 10:
40-42"We are intimately linked in this harvest work. Anyone who accepts what you do accepts me, the One who sent you. Anyone who accepts what I do accepts my Father, who sent me. Accepting a messenger of God is as good as being God's messenger. Accepting someone's help is as good as giving someone help. This is a large work I've called you into, but don't be overwhelmed by it. It's best to start small. Give a cool cup of water to someone who is thirsty, for instance. The smallest act of giving or receiving makes you a true apprentice. You won't lose out on a thing."

Who called you?  Whose team are you on?  Keep Jesus’ call in mind.  The world is waiting one person at a time to encounter a messenger who has something good to say.  Be that messenger.

Blogger Jon Reid talks about using his hot tub as a place of prayer.  One day during a devotional reading he read about a missionary in Japan who was feeling forgotten by God.  He writes:

One of the reflection questions was, "Are there any areas in ministry or prayer where you have given up?"
As I reflected on that question, I felt suddenly compelled to the hot tub, even though it had been raining. I checked and saw that there was a break in the rain, so I went out. I was barely in the water before I was praying earnestly: "Lord, I want you to use me!" I got no further in my prayer, because a surprising response cut me off:
Why do you want me to use you?
Is it so that you can feel better about yourself?
Is it to fulfill some ideal that you and Kay are "leaders with great potential," whatever that means?
Is my love for you not enough?[i]

Jesus’ love for you is enough.  He calls you because of love and sends you in His love.  Let’s settle the troublesome questions about self by discovering our identity hidden in Christ.  Let God define who we are and that will be directive for our lives.

  

Discussion:


1.  Matthew 10:12 talks about being courteous with strangers and gentle in your conversation.  What motivates people to be rude and harsh when they are talking about the gospel?  

    2.  Have you experienced rejection in telling others about Jesus?  What attitudes are essential to ‘shaking the dust off your feet’?  What happens if you do not process rejection appropriately?

    3.  Jesus said he would send us as ‘sheep among wolves’.  What does that say about human nature and the difference that Jesus makes in our lives? 

    4.  Misunderstanding is likelihood for disciples of Jesus.  How does that reality affect you?  Is it something that gives you a reality check or does it neutralize your willingness to be His messenger?



      Wednesday, March 10, 2010

      THERE'S A REASON WHY YOU GET DANGER PAY




      In jobs that involve working in extreme environments with life-threatening risks, employers often offer incentives in the form of ‘danger pay’.

      God’s eternal rewards far outweigh earthly rewards.  And the Kingdom funds its employees with danger pay.   The work of God is often extreme and working with people is fraught with many risks.

      Jesus warned us about being naïve do-gooders. 

      Matthew 10:
      16"Stay alert. This is hazardous work I'm assigning you. You're going to be like sheep running through a wolf pack, so don't call attention to yourselves. Be as cunning as a snake, inoffensive as a dove.
      17-20"Don't be naive. Some people will impugn your motives; others will smear your reputation—just because you believe in me. Don't be upset when they haul you before the civil authorities. Without knowing it, they've done you—and me—a favor, given you a platform for preaching the kingdom news! And don't worry about what you'll say or how you'll say it. The right words will be there; the Spirit of your Father will supply the words.

      Since God’s love is a dangerous force, be wise and cautious in who you love and how you communicate it.  To people who are motivated by lesser principles, pure love is a threat.  Be honest and gentle in your approach to people and do not be surprised if people turn against you.  Avoid defensive thinking about how you are going to maneuver your way out of distressing situations.  Trust God to give you the wise words and attitude in the midst of the stressful outcomes.

      A note about self-deception:   It is easy to get a ‘persecution complex’ where all negative or undesired experiences are filtered as being persecution.  Are you being punished because God is at work in your life or are you in trouble because of your own failures?  The Bible teaches that God disciplines us as much-loved children.  It takes humility to recognize the difference between loving correction and hurtful persecution.   If someone is persecuting you because of God in your life, it’s not really about you – even though you are the target.

      Monday, March 8, 2010

      DEALING WITH SLAMMED DOORS




      If you’ve ever been trained for door-to-door sales, you will learn that your goal is to quickly assume that the homeowner has compelling reasons to want your product.

      When we approach people with the claims of Jesus, we are not selling a product and rushing to the next door to earn a bonus for being a top-seller.  We are entering the lives of people to introduce the God who wants to call them into a new way of being.  This is not door-to-door sales, but person-to-person introductions to the gift of salvation.  We are not selling, but giving.

       Matthew 10:
      12-15 "When you knock on a door, be courteous in your greeting.  If they welcome you, be gentle in your conversation. If they don't welcome you, quietly withdraw. Don't make a scene. Shrug your shoulders and be on your way. You can be sure that on Judgment Day they'll be mighty sorry—but it's no concern of yours now.

       Many people struggle with the need to be validated and completely accepted in each new environment.  If they are not welcomed, they can feel very hurt and humiliated.

      Jesus taught the disciples to be pro-active and go knock on doors.  Don’t wait until someone notices you, but take the first step by going and asking for an opportunity to be with people.  What opportunities are we looking for?  We are knocking on doors to see if broken people are interested in the love and concern that we are authorized to bring.

      You may think that you are being presumptuous when you poke your nose into other people’s business.  But therein lays the key.  Don’t poke.  Don’t be nosy.  Be pro-active and available in finding situations where you can be helpful.

      If you are rejected or turned down, do not make a scene.  Quietly and politely move on to where the right opportunity is.  Eugene Peterson said ‘Shrug your shoulders and be on your way.’  The old English said ‘shake the dust off of your feet’. 

      Shaking the dust off was not an act of defiance or dramatic demonstration at being jilted.  I believe it was Jesus’ way of us maintaining a positive attitude.  We do not want the dust of rejection soiling or sticking to us.  Rid yourself of the bad experience and move forward focused on your mission, not on the failure to communicate.

      Many people get shipwrecked by dirty looks, mean words or outright rejection from others.  Don’t lose sight of the incredible call of God in your life to be his chosen servant.  Don’t let those who are not ready or misunderstand rob you of the honor that’s been placed in your life.

      We can have this tremendous need for retribution and setting people straight.  Jesus tells us to leave that to God in the future.  For now, let’s focus on the work at hand.

      Saturday, March 6, 2010

      CAN'T LOVE GOD AND MONEY




      Money has a way of revealing character.  The love of it has an insidious effect on its lovers.  Judas was perturbed at the woman's costly gift of perfumed oil being poured on Jesus.


      Matthew 26:
      14 Then one of the Twelve-the one called Judas Iscariot-went to the chief priests
      15 and asked, "What are you willing to give me if I hand him over to you?" So they counted out for him thirty silver coins. 16 From then on Judas watched for an opportunity to hand him over.
      NIV


      Is the message of ‘good news to the poor’ too much for some to bear?  It was certainly more than Judas Iscariot could tolerate. 

      The actions of this poor woman and the response of Jesus to her caused Judas to let the Devil take over.  Judas saw the truth about Jesus and decided to cash in with the religious crowd.  They would pay him to rid the world of this dangerous man.

      Jesus was dangerous because he let a sinful woman bring worship.

      Jesus was dangerous because he promised a lifetime of poor friends.

      Jesus was dangerous because he exposed the hearts of men and praised sinners.

      Discussion:

       

      1. There are many myths about the poor (lazy, dirty, addicted, uneducated, etc).  How often does your life intersect with the poor and what have been your experiences, both positive and negative?

      1. Have you seen a negative attitude towards the poor and marginalized expressed in your school, job, church, family?

      1. Debt can be an expression of poverty.  What are some examples socially of people that we believe should be indebted to us?  Who are the people that we might be tempted to feel better than?

      1. How can we ‘waste our life on the poor’?  What daily decisions can you make to live this code?  What about career choices? 


      Thursday, March 4, 2010

      POOR FRIENDS CAN BE QUITE COSTLY




      A woman pours costly perfume on Jesus' head at her own expense.  Maybe we should figure out how to be more like this woman and waste our life on lavish giving.  One way we can do that is to ‘waste our life on the poor’


      Matthew 26:
      10 Aware of this, Jesus said to them, "Why are you bothering this woman? She has done a beautiful thing to me.
      11 The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me. 12 When she poured this perfume on my body, she did it to prepare me for burial.
      13 I tell you the truth, wherever this gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her."


      The disciples were insensitive to the beautiful gift that the woman offered.  They were insensitive to the exchange between God and a woman.

      Wherever the gospel is preached, this woman is memorialized.  What about the poor among us that offer worship in a way that is hard for you to understand?  Do these people get the respect that Jesus gave this woman?

      This is a hard message for the North American church.  We have sometimes been guilty of showing preferential treatment to the ones who are successful, mature and upwardly mobile.  We only want to associate with winners.  And to the poor, do we find ways to marginalize them?

      Many churches have rules to safeguard the saints from association with the underprivileged and needy. 

      Jesus tells us that the poor will always be with ‘us’.  That means that poor people will be with us as friends.  They will be in our lives so we can care for them and help them.  We will ‘always’ have them with us, not just at outreach events.

      Tuesday, March 2, 2010

      QUESTIONING HOW OTHERS SPEND




      There will always be poor people in the land.  Christians are to have this awareness and be good to them.  Jesus would quote this very phrase from Deuteronomy when faced with the presence of discrimination towards a woman.


      Matthew 26:
      6 While Jesus was in Bethany in the home of a man known as Simon the Leper,
      7 a woman came to him with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, which she poured on his head as he was reclining at the table.
      8 When the disciples saw this, they were indignant. "Why this waste?" they asked.
      9 "This perfume could have been sold at a high price and the money given to the poor."


      Simon the Leper had been healed of leprosy by Jesus.  He bore the name as a historical fact, not as his present reality.  Reputations are like that.  People sometimes remember what you were and not what you’ve become.  One who should have understood the power of social stigma was now facing discrimination of another in his home.

      Her act was understood by Jesus to be worship and gratitude.  Not so with the disciples.  Their thoughts turned to economics.

      While the disciples may have been familiar with the Lord’s preference for publicans and sinners, they could not let this happen without acknowledging a travesty of stewardship.  This expensive perfume was being wasted on Jesus instead of aiding the poor.

      It’s easy to find fault with how other people spend their money.  When it comes to spending extravagantly on worship, there will be many critics suggesting better ways to spend money on God.  It happens when a church builds a new building or people invest extravagantly in a ministry.  It’s easy to do the math and make such things into a ‘justice’ issue where we become watchdogs of other people’s money.

      We fall short when we fail to look into the motivations of givers.  We must guard against an attitude of intolerance toward those who are extravagant in their worship and giving.  We should not take offence to people who seem to waste money in doing something extravagant for the Lord.  If they are doing it with a heart of gratitude to the Lord, let them.  It’s not your right to stop them.

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