An Exhortation from a Present Persecution.

An Exhortation from a Present Persecution.

Well, you know, I didn’t intend for my blog post from a few weeks ago to be a two-part series, but here we are. It started with an email from Adam, one of my brothers-in-law, on Wednesday asking about a PBS story reporting on Russian troops persecuting Evangelical Christians in occupied Ukraine. In short, it was pretty much what I had imagined; it was the same story that has gone on for over a hundred years, dating from before the Soviet Union.

Connection? You can do so here if you did not get a chance to take in my post from earlier on April 11th. In the brief article, I spoke of the importance of committing to a local church family and illustrated the weight of this commitment by sharing what some Christians were required to in the process of forming a local church after the fall of the USSR. They had to present their documents to the local authorities, which perhaps would put their lives on the line if the tides of politics changed and the Soviets retook control. There was a real possibility that these Christians would be the first in line to hear from the KGB. That real fear these faithful Christians had to walk through was realized by these Ukrainian Christians recently when the Russian Army took control of their region. Part of the agenda of Putin is to force everyone in Ukraine to not only be reunited by force with Russia but to submit to the Russian Orthodox Church, and thus, the persecution of those who will not submit has begun.

Not all Russians support this action. There are indeed authentic Christians in Russia, and I still have such friends there. There are so many ways we should be praying about this situation. However, as was the point of the previous blog post, so we have it here: This should be an exhortation for us in America, the West, and really any part of the globe where we are tempted to take our freedom to assemble with the saints for granted.

Do you have reasons for wanting to ignore the community of saints? Have you been wronged, or have temptations toward something else rearranged your priorities? I don’t know. But I’ve struggled, too, at times. I’ve been burnt and broken and frankly have had times when I’ve just wanted to stay in bed on Sunday – and I’m the preacher. I get it. But this is critical. It’s not about me. It’s about God and others.

What we know is that the Bible exhorts us not to give up on the Body of Christ, which means the local church as well. So often, the issue is that we are looking at the church to get what we want instead of the Bride of Christ, warts and all, and asking what we can do for others instead of expecting others to serve us. Here is the reality. Over the past 2000 years, people have been persecuted, even unto death at times, for Jesus and the Church. These people laid it on the line for Christ, which should say something to our hearts. That ought to encourage us to stand up and put Christ and others first.

So, we must pray for the saints on the other side of the globe. And, yes, we are to get out of bed, actively love others, and commit to the church around us where we live. It’s one thing to talk about religion and politics in other places. It’s another thing to commit to the need here and now. That’s what the call is, though. But being connected to and committed to a local church family is also a blessing found in nothing else the world has to offer. What would those persecuted tell us now on the subject if they could?

I’m not always going to get things right and neither will you. But the amazing thing is that God takes us as we are and changes us, and one of the main ways He does that is through our active involvement in His Church. So, what are you waiting for? Find a local church that loves Jesus and teaches the Bible and find a way to dive in to help.

You can watch the short video report here:

 

Praying Psalm 23 over Ukraine and All of Us!

Praying Psalm 23 over Ukraine and All of Us!

Ukraine?  How do we respond to the Russian invasion that has gone on for almost two weeks now? By this, I do not mean governmental, political, or economic responses. Instead, the question has to do with our own hearts. Maybe it depends on the generation or location. Since the war began, I’ve not heard too much from younger adults in their early 20s. Perhaps this is because it is occurring on the other side of the globe. Out of sight, out of mind to our present context some would say.

For me though, I grew up in the latter part of the Cold War, so my connection is a bit heightened. I remember being in college when the Berlin wall fell, and the Soviet Union dissolved. So, the knowledge of an aggressive Russia triggers emotions.

More importantly, during a ten-week foreign internship in 1993, I spent just over a week in Ukraine, so I have personal connections there. In addition, through other ministry contacts, I am aware of Christian leaders in the country. On the other end of the storyline, I lived in Moscow, Russia, from 1994 to 1996, helping establish a Bible college, and have many beautiful memories from that time and know people in Russia who do not support the actions of Putin and other Soviet-era leaders who want to take over Ukraine.

But across the world, the public chatter is growing much more vocal. Maybe it’s the constant media. One of the differences between the Viet Nam war and all previous wars is the amount of continuous media coverage that comes into American homes on the nightly news with more graphic images than ever before. Today, with our media technology, anyone with a cell phone can record and shoot to the world at any time. So, these videos and reports from Ukraine are sometimes happening in real-time, which conveys raw information and sometimes very intense emotions.

So, for us, who are not actually on the ground there, how can we respond? There are some great and growing options to send humanitarian aid. Two of those are with Impact Ministry Group and Marked Men For Christ in which you can go to the site and click to designate for Ukraine.  Physically, though, there is little more. On the other hand, as a child of God, there is indeed so much more we can and must do. In truth, for those who call themselves followers of Christ, there is the essential thing that can and must be done, we must pray.

When I think of prayers in the Bible, one of the first appeals that come to my mind is a prayer we know as the 23rd Psalm. Psalm 23 is one of the most widely referenced and partially quoted prayers within and without the church. With a bolt, it flies out of the shoot with the opening line of, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want . . .” and is further carried with the powerful image of walking through the “valley of the shadow of death.”

The text is a recording of prayer deep within the soul of King David as he acknowledged that despite everything, God will bring deliverance. We don’t know if the context was one of him fleeing the mad King Saul, or possibly, this was even more personal as some believe that David offered up this praise and plea when his son, Absalom, tried to usurp the Kingdom from David and take his life. Whatever the historical specifics may be, we see in this prayer David reaching up to God and finding hope despite what was quaking around him in the present.

Yes, we can still today reach back some three thousand years and find hope for today. But the real and ultimate fulfillment of this Psalm is found in John 10:11 where Jesus addresses all our tensions with the proclamation that he indeed is the one and only Good Shepherd. It was Jesus who faced the final and greatest enemy, death, and triumphed over it and Satan on the cross and his resurrection on the third day. His resurrection demands proof of his divinity and thus we have assurance of His future return with the final judgment, and reward. As David trusted in the God of all creation, we too, lift our voices with praise and prayer today knowing that Jesus, the Divine Son of God, will hear us.

 

-Like so many occasions in so many places of the past, I recite in faith, David’s prayer of Psalm 23.

The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. 2 He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. 3 He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. 4 Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. 5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. 6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever.

 

-From David’s prayer, I offer up my brief personal and present additions . . .

“Lord, I declare before all creation that you, and you alone, are the true shepherd. Putin, Zelensky, Biden, Trump, and other governmental leaders are not the true shepherd and the power they wield is only given by you. To you, and you alone, I ask that you bring divine help to the suffering not only in Ukraine but to all who call out to you.

Jesus, the valley of the shadow of death is very real in Ukraine today. I ask that you use your rod and staff to confuse and confront those who are set against you and set toward evil and violence. As David prayed for the confusing of the enemy in 2 Samuel 15:31, we pray that you will bring to nothing those who are bent on violence. I ask that you bring miracles and wisdom to those standing against evil.

Lord, David spoke of hope, of dwelling in the house of the Lord forever. He spoke that even though he was separated from the tabernacle, from the Arc of the Covenant, which was still in Jerusalem. David spoke of hope because his hope was in you.

I pray for those in Ukraine suffering in ways I cannot imagine. I pray for those in Russia who do not agree with the aggressive actions of Putin. I pray for those who live near the DMZ in North and South Korea, for those in Cuba, for those in China and Taiwan. I pray for the people of Honduras who are now under communist rule. I pray for the poor in Mexico, Central America, Africa, and in the lower reaches of rural America and the slums of US and international cities.

I pray that you will bring the final and ultimate victory. As we wait for your complete judgment and renewal of all things, give us strength to carry on in trust. Above all, I pray for open hearts and that they will see your grace and power. I pray that through the chaos right now, you might be glorified, and people might come to know you.

Yes, Jesus, I pray that you would be the shepherd to those who call upon your name.

In Your Holy Name, Amen”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Touching the World.

Touching the World.

SNDWorld Evangelism, Global Outreach. I love those words.  The truth is that I have been transformed by Jesus Christ and I have the privilege of being part of His team which makes the message of God known to the world. The truth is; we all have that same privilege and that’s exactly what we’re going to be talking about in the discussions this Sunday night. What is the real need in the world? What kind of opportunities do we have for global outreach in the early 21st century? What is the actual responsibility of Christ followers to convey that message to others? How can we see that mission carried out in our time and in the lives of those who follow us?  Join us live Sunday night at 8p central as we welcome one of the big mentors in my life, Max Goins, who has served as a local pastor and foreign missionary around the world for almost 50 years.  World Evangelism – Global Outreach is the ministry that Max formed in 1991 with the purpose of reaching the lost and training disciples and I can’t wait for you to meet him.

Join us here or on our Sunday Night Discussions Google + page and be sure to send in questions early. As always we will be giving away a free recourse toward the end of the show.

Entirely Equal but Defiantly Different!

Russian IWD Poster.

Today is International Women’s Day which is a big thing in parts of the world like Europe.  The first time I heard about this celebration was when Deb and I lived in Russia back in the mid 90s where IWD is a huge deal.  The roots of this movement began in the early 1900s on the heels of the industrial revolution where women experienced great oppression and unfairness.  In 1908, some 15,000 women marched through New York City demanding shorter hours, better pay, and voting rights.  This movement continued in other countries and the first official day of celebration was held in Austria in 1911 and followed in the US with the 19th Amendment in 1920.  On this day of celebration I’m remembering some influential ladies in my life and am thankful for them, but I’m also a bit saddened at the agenda of the modern feminist movement.  Is this because I’m opposed to women’s suffrage and really am a chauvinist at heart?  No.  Rather, it’s because I am totally for women and sense that what has arisen out of this healthy and right call for equality has now morphed into a recipe for tears.  The problem that many may not grasp is the mistake of equating equality for sameness and thus a drive to purposefully remove any difference between the genders. (more…)

To Sign or Not To Sign? (Thoughts on Church Membership)

Recently we had our first “Official” membership class at the Crossings and it was a lot of fun.  It was just neat to see so many new and old faces excited about what God is doing in our own little part of the Kingdom.  It was neat to see people stepping up to the plate in heartfelt commitment.  Now I understand that in the greater body of Christ there’s been some debate as to what to do with Church membership.  Some claim it is not a Biblical principle and others hold the opposite position and see it as a great practicality for our day.  On my part I lean toward the second camp, so I’ve listed 7 reasons at the bottom of the post as to why we’ve gone with a formal membership at The Crossings.  But I think the greatest reason why I fall on the side of a designated church membership for the located body of Christ actually comes from a true story from our time in the former Soviet Union(more…)