The Church is the Hope of the World (because Jesus is).

God likes churches, which all by itself says a lot about the unfathomable patience of God. Church people have a bit of a reputation for challenging the limits of good sense. Thom Rainer, President of LifeWay, did a Twitter poll a few years ago asking pastors to share their best stories of things church people fight over. He posted his favorites from the literally hundreds he received.

Some arguments we can almost imagine, like the discussion over the appropriate length of the worship pastor’s beard or whether or not he ought to wear shoes on stage. I’m not saying these are legitimate arguments, but that I can imagine people airing strong opinions. The comments I get about clothing and hair never cease to amaze.

Other arguments seem ridiculous even for church people. Some church members left their church because one church member hid the vacuum cleaner from them. And there was an argument over the type of filing cabinet to purchase and another over the type of green beans the church should serve. Two different churches reported fights over the type of coffee. In one, they moved from Folgers to a stronger Starbucks brand; in the other, they simply moved to a stronger blend. In both cases, people left the church over this. Then there was the disagreement over using the term “potluck” instead of “pot blessing.” And (my personal favorite) whether the church should allow deviled eggs at the church meal.

And this is what God has chosen as his primary vehicle for saturating the world with the gospel. In fact, he calls it his bride. God doesn’t just like the Church; he loves the Church. He married us. He isn’t just putting up with us. He wants us. Stunning, isn’t it? So when Jesus ascended into Heaven after his resurrection, he sent the Holy Spirit and the Holy Spirit’s work is to build the Church on earth. By revealing Jesus Christ as Messiah of the world, the Holy Spirit builds churches. Why? Because God has chosen the Church as his primary vehicle for saturating the world with the gospel, which is why in much of the world, the church is a very dangerous idea.

The 2018 World Watch List from Open Doors estimates that one in twelve Christians live where their faith is “illegal, forbidden, or punished.”

  • So far this year, 3,066 Christians have been killed, 1,252 abducted, 1,020 raped or sexually harassed, and 793 churches have been attacked.
  • North Korea is at the top of the list for persecution. “It is illegal to be a Christian in North Korea and Christians are often sent to labor camps or killed if they are discovered,”
  • Afghanistan ranks number two on the number of persecutions.
  • Six countries are on the World Watch list because of dictatorial paranoia. Five made the list for religious nationalism.
  • Communist and post-Communist oppression caused four nations to make the watch list, and organized crime and corruption put two others in the top fifty.
  • Pakistan recorded the most violence against Christians last year and was the worst in terms of church attacks, abductions, and forced marriages.

In so many other places in the world, church folks are not arguing over why the youth group used the crock pot to make cheese dip (true story). In most places in the world, church folks are waking up every day prepared to die. And yet, no other religion is growing at the rate of Christianity. In fact, countries seeing the greatest rate of growth in Christian conversions are also ranked highest in their rate of persecuting Christians.

The Church is the hope of the world, because  Jesus is.

It is, as a pastor in Hong Kong has said, “the most influential, counter-cultural and enduring organization that has ever existed in all of history.” There are more than 2 billion members worldwide — a third of the world’s population, up 300% in the last 100 years. As an entity, it is the biggest organization on the planet, twice as big as Facebook (which, by the way, is on the decline).

Meanwhile, the global growth of evangelical Protestants since 1940 has increased at three times the world’s population rate.  Compare that with atheism, the only belief system that has declined. Despite what it must feel like in our own culture some days, the Church is holding her own.

My friends, God is at work all around us — in ways we cannot imagine, don’t even know to look for. And the Church is where the Lord God does his best work. Maybe not in your church, mind you — which ought to make you think (and act) — but in and through The Church, Jesus is proving himself Lord … over and over again.

The Church is God’s home on earth — his Bride, his people — so we’d better fall in love with the Church. She is how God has chosen to organize his slow-burning but ever-advancing global revolution … one life at a time.

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How would Jesus vote?

Jesus lived in a corrupt and perverse generation, and what he taught was subversive. Revolutionary.

The people of Rome had been taught Caesar was something like a savior. This had been the accepted truth for generations, since Julius Caesar was declared a deity by the Roman senate. Then Jesus showed up, ushered in an alternative Kingdom, set it down directly next to that mindset and dared the Roman Empire to choose. He publicly announced there was a government greater than Rome’s — a government blessed by God. He taught that poor people and those being held captive and those who were oppressed would find relief in this other Kingdom and that in fact, it was the hope of the world.

Jesus was a rebel.

He was arrested on a charge of treason and put to death. On the day he died the sky went dark and the earth shook. Ominous signs, these were the sound effects of a cosmic shift in power, a curtain falling on the old order. The Romans had just been played by the God of the universe, who used the moment to unleash a whole new religion. Christianity would spread throughout the Roman world, pull down the empire, and become the single most powerful voice of all time.

By the time Paul was converted, Jesus was the reigning eternal King of the Kingdom of Heaven, seated in all his glory in the presence of God the Father Almighty. Revelation tells us he holds the power of hell and death in his hands. When Paul tells the Philippians (3:20), “Our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ …” he is not talking about a feel-good religion. He’s talking about a cosmic government and a citizenship that transcends any human system. This is why Paul took the message beyond the Jews; this Kingdom — the Kingdom of Christ — wasn’t just for one nationality or one group of people. This was a new worldview.

Hear that: The Kingdom of Heaven is bigger than any one nationality.

Nero was Emperor in 64 A.D. when a huge fire broke out in Rome. It burned seventy percent of the city. Some people blamed Nero for this devastation; to divert attention he tortured Christians. He fed them to lions as entertainment and used them as human torches at his garden parties. The effect of the persecution was the spread of Christianity. Once again, the Romans had been played by the God of a greater Kingdom.

For the last 2000 years, this has been our pattern. Where Christians are persecuted, Christianity grows. Where Christians become comfortable, it stagnates. We have never flourished by giving our primary allegiance to a government. That isn’t how our faith works. Our citizenship is in Heaven.

So how should a citizen of Heaven vote in this election? 

Faithfully.

What drives your decisions, your conversations, your opinions? Are you making your choices under the Lordship of Christ? Friends, our vote should be powered by our faith. Our allegiance as citizens of Heaven is not to a political party or to a national strategy. Our allegiance is to the Lordship of Christ. We who follow Jesus are citizens of the Kingdom of God first of all … or not at all.

Prayerfully.

If I could wish one thing on the Christian culture in the U.S. right now, it would be this: That we would spend as much time in prayer as we spend online. Don’t just ask God who you ought to vote for; ask for his character to flow through you so that your words, actions and attitudes reflect his heart, especially when it comes to those with whom you disagree.

Friends, I suspect real Christian character is proven not by how we pray before the election, but by how we pray after the election. Commit now to wake up on November 9th and pray for whoever is elected. We want that person to be a great President — to be true, honorable, just, pure, commendable, excellent, worthy of our gratitude. This is the heart of humble, patriotic, God-honoring prayer. It is that desire to see our country and its leaders and its people succeed, whoever is President.

Non-anxiously.

Governments rise and fall and God is still God. Countries come and go, and God is still God. November 8th will not stop the coming of Christ or the defeat of Satan. The purposes of God will be accomplished. When Jesus hung on the cross and said, “It is finished,” he meant that no enemy, no other kingdom, no other power would have ultimate control of the universe. The battle belongs to the Lord. We know how the story ends. We win.

Humbly.

Humility (the primary personality trait of Jesus, always characterized by self-sacrifice) is the fruit of genuine repentance. There is something to be said for sober judgment, for falling down before God in an honest recognition of our imperfect state, with a less arrogant defensiveness. There is something attractive about a sincere acknowledgement that we’re on a journey and not there yet.

Kingdom-mindedly

Jesus came to save the whole world, not just our corner of it. As followers of Jesus and citizens of the Kingdom of God, we must live with a memory of the more than two billion people in the world who have never heard they have a citizenship in Heaven. Jesus loves those people. All of them. I’m convinced that the names on the November 8th ballot don’t matter nearly as much as the names in the Lamb’s Book of Life. Those names ought to have our greatest attention. They ought to occupy the vast majority of our brain space and the greatest part of our prayers. As citizens of the Kingdom, our lives cannot matter more to us than their lives.

Because that’s who Jesus voted for. The cross is proof.

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The Fellowship of the Unashamed

The source is shaky, but the story is told of an African man who lived maybe a century ago. He was coerced either by his tribe or some outside group to renounce his faith in Jesus Christ. Rather than giving in, he wrote what is now called the creed of the Fellowship of the Unashamed.

This is a kind of creed for those of us who have found our spiritual feet and have chosen to walk in the Spirit. I don’t normally gravitate to these kinds of quotes, but for some reason this one resonates in this season. It inspires a kind of boldness that seems to be lacking in our culture but sorely needed.

Read this, then print it, post it, and let it sink into your soul.

The Fellowship of the Unashamed

I am part of the fellowship of the unashamed. I have Holy Spirit power.

The die has been cast. I have stepped over the line. The decision has been made. I am a disciple of His. I won’t look back, let up, slow down, back away or be still.

My past is redeemed. My present makes sense. My future is secure. I’m finished with low living, sight walking, small planning, smooth knees, colorless dreams, tamed visions, worldly talking, cheap giving, and dwarfed goals.

I no longer need preeminence, prosperity, position, promotions, applause, or popularity. I don’t have to be right, first, tops, recognized, praised, regarded or rewarded. I now live by faith, lean on His presence, walk by patience, am uplifted by prayer and labor by power.

My pace is set. My gait is fast. My goal is heaven. My road is narrow. My way rough. My companions few.  My guide is reliable and my mission is clear.

I cannot be bought, compromised, detoured, lured away, turned back, deluded or delayed. I will not flinch in the face of sacrifice, hesitate in the presence of the adversary, negotiate at the table of the enemy, pander at the pool of popularity or meander in the maze of mediocrity.

I won’t give up, shut up, let up, until I’ve stayed up, stored up, prayed up, paid up, preached up for the cause of Christ.

I am a disciple of Jesus. I must go till He comes, give ’til I drop, preach till all know, and work till He stops me. And when He comes for His own, He’ll have no problem recognizing me. My banner will be clear.

Amen! May it be so in your life and mine.

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Grace is not for wimps.

C. S. Lewis said you’ll either love Jesus or you’ll hate him. There is no in-between. “… Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God.”

That choice creates a tension that causes some to build crosses and draw swords and fire guns at people who fall at his feet in worship.

Christianity claims more followers — and more martyrs — than any other religion.  Consider these stats*:

  • More Christians were martyred in the 20th century than in all other centuries combined.
  • Currently over 100 million Christians are being persecuted worldwide.
  • North Korea continues to be the worst country in the world for persecution.
  • Open Doors (a watchdog and advocacy organization for persecuted Christians) estimates that more than 12,500 Christians have been killed in religion related violence in northern Nigeria between 2006 and 2014, including one whole village that was massacred. Boko Haram violence has claimed most of those lives.
  • It is also estimated that Boko Haram related violence has displaced more than 500,000 Christians in northern Nigeria.
  • In 2015, Islamic State released a video showing what is believed to be the execution of 30 Ethiopian Christians in Libya. Subtitles refer to the men as “worshippers of the cross belonging to the hostile Ethiopian church.”
  • Iran’s parliament believes Muslims who change their faith should be put to death.
  • In India, up to 70,000 Christians in Orissa have been forced to flee their homes in riots.
  • In Indonesia, in the two years between 2000-2002, Muslims slaughtered 10,000 Christians.
  • In Vietnam a new law restricts the growth of Christian churches and violence is on the rise.
  • Nepal has laws in place to restrict religion; a constitutional change last year bans all religious conversions.
  • Pakistan, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Maldives, Sri Lanka all have laws restricting religion.
  • Half of Iraq’s Christians have fled the country since the fall of Saddam Hussein.
  • Under Islamist pressure, Coptic Christians in Egypt are being forced from their homes.
  • A February video showed Islamic State killing 20 Coptic Christians from Egypt and one Ghanaian.
  • By 2012, most of the 80,000 Christians in Homs, Syria had been ‘cleansed’ from their homes.
  • In Europe, persecution is becoming a reality through “equality directives.” In 2011, France passed a law banning prayer in public streets — a reaction against the growing Muslim population.
  • Seventy percent of the world’s population lives in a religiously intolerant environment.
  • Christians are the most persecuted religious group worldwide. An average of at least 180 Christians around the world are killed each month for their faith.
  • Christians in more than 60 countries face persecution from their governments or surrounding neighbors simply because of their belief in Christ.
  • In 41 of the 50 worst nations for persecution, Christians are being persecuted by Islamic extremists.

The moral of all these stories is simple: Grace is not for wimps. Grace forces us to choose. It isn’t weak or soft. It comes in truth, in power, in supernatural connections. It creates wonders and signs and it offends people who have no room for the supernatural in their lives.

You can’t kill it, though it is intent on destroying everything in you that won’t fit in the Kingdom of God. Be clear on that when you sign up, because grace has no intention of leaving you as you are. Grace is God giving us every option, opening every door, showing us every gate of Heaven. Grace is “God For Us” so completely that there is no room or tolerance for even a shred of our sin, unholy comforts or complacencies.

The goal of grace is the realized Kingdom of Heaven. It is bent completely toward seeing the answer to Jesus’ own prayer: “Your Kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as in heaven.”

Whatever the cost.

Grace is not for wimps but worth the risk. To live a life so anchored in truth and power and prayer, so anchored in the truth that there is more to this life than simply staying alive at any cost, so anchored in grace that nothing rocks the boat — that is worth living for.

And worth dying for.

 

*Facts documented either by the U.S. Department of State, a reputable news organization or Open Doors, a watch-dog and support group for persecuted Christians.

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