Archive for June, 2018|Monthly archive page

A silver lining

There is a silver lining in the dark clouds threatening the church in North America.

The silver lining is God.

At different times in history, God has spoken to lost societies and turned them around.

I believe that is happening now.

I’m reading a fascinating book at the moment  – Meet Generation Z: Understanding and Reaching the New Post-Christian World by James Emery White.  He’s a former president of an evangelical seminary and currently pastor of a North Carolina church whose membership is made up of 70 per cent people with no previous church connection.

He gives a well-researched look at the generation born after 1995 which now accounts for about one-quarter of the American population.

It’s a generation that overwhelmingly doesn’t care about God, doesn’t even think about God.

To a large extent, it is a generation that has received very little parental guidance.  And, as many others have noted, it is addicted to electronic devices and everything that goes with that, including exposure to adult material such as pornography at very young ages.

Generation Z has also grown up in a period of social and economic turmoil – including terrorism and the Great Recession of 2008.  It’s a generation where young people feel they will have to manage – or struggle – on their own.

This generation doesn’t know much about God or Christianity.

White says he once spoke about “the Lord’s supper” in his church and a young unchurched woman who had been attending for several months texted him to say how excited she was by the church and finished by asking what food she should bring to the Lord’s supper.  In some ways, it’s a funny story for Christian believers, but it is a telling point – we are speaking to people today who know nothing about Christ.

But here’s the silver lining: People like White are tackling this problem and finding ways to reach the vast unchurched world outside our church walls.

As others have said, we are in a world much like the early church in the Roman empire.  It’s a world where we have to tell the story of Christ as if we were telling it for the first time to people who have never heard of it before.

If it depended entirely on us as human beings, I would despair.  But we are not alone.

There is a great passage in Nehemiah 8 where Ezra reads the books of Moses to the Israelites and they break out weeping as God’s word touches their hearts.  That was the power of God working through his word.

In Isaiah 55:11, God says that his word “will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I have sent it”.

As long as Christians are faithful to God and his word, the Spirit of God will take the word of God and transform lives.

And nations will be changed, too, as they were in biblical times and as they have been in the 2,000 years since Christ’s ascension to heaven.

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Let them see Jesus

A vision of God led a Pashtun tribal elder to give his life to the Lord in Pakistan.

The elder, who was fleeing the war in Afghanistan, watched a worship service across the border in Pakistan and it moved him, says Terry Law author of The Power of Praise and Worship.

He approached a Pakistani pastor and asked him what it was about the Bible that the pastor had given him a week before.

“Every time I open it,” he said, “I see a vision of a Lamb standing by a glorious throne in front of millions and millions of people.  When I close the Book it goes away.   When I open it up, it comes back.  What is this?”

Law says the Pakistani pastor turned to Revelation 5 and showed the refugee in print what he had seen in the vision.  He explained that Jesus was the Lamb who was slain for him and now stood by God the Father surrounded by millions of redeemed worshipers.

“The Pashtun elder surrendered his life to Jesus on the spot,” writes Law.  “He had been convicted of his sin and saved to eternal life, not because someone had rebuked the darkness that imprisoned him, but because he had seen the shining light of God’s glory in worship.”

This story strikes a chord in my heart.

I have read of similar visions in other non-Christian cultures.

I heard a tape of renowned missionary Jackie Pullinger describing a talk she gave in someone’s home in an Asian country – Japan, I believe.

One of her listeners fell asleep and missed most of her talk.  But he followed her into the kitchen afterwards and asked her the meaning of a vision he had while she was talking.  He had seen a man at a table surrounded by 12 men eating a meal.

She told him about Jesus and the last supper before his crucifixion and the Asian man put his faith in Christ.

As well, today many people in Muslim countries are becoming believers after visions of Christ.

As I think of this, I realize I have become so wrapped up in evangelistic techniques and formulas that I have neglected the wonders of Christ himself.

Some years ago, Pastor Bruxy Cavey said something that has stuck with me ever since.

When people raise objections to the church today, he nods and then asks: “But what do you think about Jesus?”

In the end, that is the question everyone needs to answer.  And the picture of Jesus in the gospels is so compelling that many have given their lives to him.

People need to know Jesus and how much he loves them.

Disturbed, but hopeful

Like many Christians, I am disturbed by a recent Supreme Court of Canada decision in the Trinity Western University case.

In my opinion, it is a blow against religious rights.  It is a sign of a trend in government against the right of Christian organizations to take a position on social issues that may differ with others in society.

For example, it follows a federal government ruling earlier this year that religious groups must take a pro-choice position on abortion rather than a pro-life stand if they seek government funds for summer interns, many of them helping needy children and others.

The court ruled in favour of the Law Societies of British Columbia and Ontario against accrediting graduates of the Trinity Western University Law School because the evangelical Christian institution had a code of conduct on sexual relations.  The school said sexual relations should only be between a man and woman within marriage.

The majority in the 7-2 court decision upholding the provincial law society action clearly felt other issues were more important than religious liberty.  Some legal commentators reacted by criticizing the decision – one law professor said it was “embarrassing” – and its impact on religious rights.

Some noted that people with different views than Trinity Western could go to other law schools.  And Trinity Western is a private institution – not a public body which has to abide by other values.

Anyway, it certainly seems that religious liberty is considered a secondary value by many administrators and now the senior judges in the land.

As I say, this is a disturbing trend – but not devastating.

The time may come when many things we believers consider rights today are eliminated.

But I know that the Christian church thrives in tough times.

Just look at the early centuries of the Christian church.  It grew dramatically in spite of persecution.

The early church grew because Christians demonstrated the power of God’s love – in word and deed.  They loved each other and they cared for those who needed help.  So, the gospel they preached fell on receptive ears.

Nothing can stand against that.

Always with me

A great thing about God is that he never gives up on his children.

Sometimes, it’s hard to believe he can stick with me.  And I’m sure others feel the same way.

But, Christ promised that he is always with us believers – “even to the end of the age”  (Matthew 28:20).

Jesus’ conversation with Peter in John 21 gives special hope to anyone who feels he or she has failed the Lord irretrievably.

You may recall the exchange between the two after Jesus’ resurrection.

Peter and other disciples had gone fishing.  I imagine Peter was thinking about returning to his fishing career after he had denied knowing Christ just before the crucifixion.

I am sure Peter was deeply ashamed.  He had boasted that he would stand with Jesus no matter what and yet he denied being Jesus’ follower at the most critical moment.

Now, Jesus appeared on the shore and told the disciples to throw out their net on the other side of the boat and they hauled in a huge catch of fish.

When John said “It is the Lord”, Peter jumped into the water and rushed to the shore.  I love the excitement – typical of Peter – and the joy.

Then, while Jesus and his friends were eating fish on the shore, Jesus posed the same question three times to Peter: “Do you love me?”

Each time, Peter said: “Yes, Lord.  You know that I love you.”

And after Jesus heard Peter’s spoken commitment, he said: “Feed my sheep.”

In effect, he was telling Peter that he was being commissioned to go out and spread the good news despite his failure.

God did the same with David and Elijah in the Old Testament.

David had sex with another man’s wife and then arranged to have the husband killed.  When the prophet Nathan exposed the truth to David, he repented and was punished with the death of his young son.  But God’s hand remained on him and he was used greatly for the rest of his life.

Elijah was one of the few Israelites who stood up to the evil king Ahab and his wife Jezebel.  Yet he lost his nerve and ran away after a great triumph over the prophets of the false god Baal.  He feared Jezebel would kill him.

Despite that, God commissioned Elijah for further tasks before the end of his life and then took him up to heaven spectacularly before the eyes of his disciple Elisha.

If we love God, the Lord can use us.

What a merciful God!  What a loving and forgiving God!

The Jesus way

It was an unlikely match – a group of evangelical churches working with the openly-gay mayor of liberal Portland, Oregon, to meet the pressing needs of that city 10 years ago.

In Kevin Palau’s eyes, it was a return to early Christianity where sharing the good news of Christ was married with loving people who need help.

As the mayor and Palau say, they parked the differences of opinion they had and started working together on matters where they agreed – helping people.

Palau and other pastors in that group of churches haven’t given up their passion for Jesus and for telling others about the good news of Christ.  Conversations about Jesus emerge from contacts between people working together on alleviating the basic needs of the city.

In the process, the local impression of Christians in Portland is changing.  Christians in that liberal city were widely seen as condemning and angry.  It was hard to talk about Christ in that highly-charged atmosphere when Palau and a band of evangelical pastors approached Sam Adams, newly-elected mayor in Portland in 2008.

Some years later, Adams and Palau talked together about their experience in a 10-minute video filmed at a meeting in New York City’s Redeemer Church which you can see at https://vimeo.com/66596545/  It is amazing to hear two people of such different views speaking so positively of their work together.

For Palau, it was the conclusion of a process which began some years before when he began questioning the mass stadium evangelism approach to reaching non-Christians.

He had been working with his father, renowned evangelist Luis Palau, and noticed the declining crowds and hearing local pastors’ doubts about the long-term commitment of new believers.

The Palaus remained committed to large-scale evangelism – particularly, large and joyous festivals in open-air parks – but began talking about other ways of relating to non-believers.

This led to meetings with a large number of like-minded evangelical pastors in Portland, culminating in the offer to Sam Adams to help with the needs the city considered most important.

One of these was schools.

In his book Unlikely: Setting Aside Our Differences to Live Out The Gospel, Palau tells the inspiring story of church members dedicating time and money and God’s love to a down-and-out Roosevelt High School.  They cleaned up and renovated the building, mentored students, built relationships with teachers, and even coached the high school football team which hadn’t won a game in years.

Palau says the motivation for this city-wide initiative – called CityServe Portland – is the example of Christ who ate with and served people despised by the religious leaders of the time.  Jesus stood for truth, but didn’t let that stop him from loving the people he met.

CityServe has also transformed relationships between believers active in this outreach effort.

It’s a great story.