This post is taken from a personal journal entry dated April 18, 2013. Much has changed in my life since then, though the sentiments below remain largely unchanged. It’s always interesting to go back and retread journal entries and compare thoughts and feelings from then to now. In this case, I feel very much the same way I felt when I originally captured these thoughts.

I have a confession to make. I want to be part of something powerful, to contribute to the greater mission of God. I want to be part of a disciple-making movement, to see the body of Christ take to heart the mission He has sent us on: to make disciples of all nations.

My fear is that the Church is not so passionate about making disciples. So many people are content to attend church and warm the pew. Each Sunday morning has become for many congregations a tradition and not a training opportunity. I believe the church’s purpose is to train believers to carry out the mission of God in and among our communities and neighbors. Without each believer’s commitment to carry out the task, our hope of making disciples is stymied. It is imperative, then, that we stoke the fire God has placed within each of us so that it utterly consumes us.

What if we made the mission of God the highest priority in our lives? What difference would we make in our communities and among our circles of influence? How many people would be introduced to the freedom of grace found in the gospel? How many people would see their lives change dramatically for the better because of a relationship with Jesus? Do we care about those things enough to make the mission of God a priority—the highest priority—in our lives? More questions than answers plague my thoughts these days.

How can motivated believers mobilize a stagnant group of Christians to change how they see church? What if every worship service was seen as a divine homecoming wherein the family of God gathered to sing, shout, and extol the praises of God? What if the division of the Word of God was an in-depth training opportunity designed to equip believers with more tools to be the hands and feet of Christ? And, what if each Bible class met with the purpose of ministering to one another, to the church, and to communities in which we live? What would that look like? I believe it would look very different from what is seen in churches all across America.

I imagine a church where believers gather to share how God has used them to bring hope and grace to the people around them. The church would be a place where fellow believers can pray for one another in their pursuit to honor the mission of God, where believers can sharpen one another. I imagine a church where believers gather to express heartfelt gratitude for salvation and for God’s hand in their lives. The worship experience would be genuine and emotional at the same time. Hearts overflowing with gladness and joy — despite circumstances — would join together to sing God’s praise. I imagine a church where believers soak up application as God’s Word is taught from the pulpit and within Bible classes. Pens in hand, notebooks scribbled in, believers all over would be actively listening and recording methods for sharing the truths being revealed. And at the conclusion of the worship gathering, the doors would swing open and an army of missionaries would pour forth from the building committed to reaching a lost population with the gospel of Jesus to the glory of God.


3 Responses to the Execution of Coptic Christians

A few days ago, the group known as ISIS executed 21 Coptic Christians from Egypt on what appeared to be the shores of Libya.  They were executed because they were Christians and because ISIS fighters accused the Egyptian Christian Church of crimes against Muslim women.  Since this event, I have witnessed on social media an outcry against this act–and rightly so.  But, something concerns me.  From Christian brothers and sisters, I see a growing vengeful sentiment that is uncharacteristic of the Christian faith.  Sure, it is natural for a person to be angry about this type of atrocity, but as Christians, should we advocate for wrath against the ISIS fighters and leaders who carried out these executions?

Last night as I was reading in my Bible, I was confronted with the reality that as believers, we will face persecution.  It’s difficult for believers in America to relate to that idea because we live a relatively unscathed life where our faith is concerned.  The 21 men who lost their lives for their faith surely understand what the Bible was talking about–and are now in glory with Christ.  But the promise of difficulty on account of the name of Jesus is a promise every believer can lay hold to.  In Matthew 10:22, Jesus says,

You will be hated by everyone because of My name. But the one who endures to the end will be delivered.

Wow, what a promise!  We will be hated.  Why?  Because of the name of Christ.  But, there is a promise of hope amid the promise of persecution and hatred: those who endure to the end will be delivered.  Deliverance.  When in the throes of persecution, we all desire deliverance.  When cancer comes, we pray for healing.  When finances seem tight, we pray God will help us make ends meet.  When difficulty arises within the family, we pray God brings unity and strength to our families.  When we are persecuted, we pray for deliverance.

In many ways the Christian life is easy in America.  And while we face our fair share of difficulty, persecution, however, is a fairly foreign concept for American Christians.  Our society and our culture cry out for revenge, justice, and fairness from every corner and the Internet gives us a voice to sound that cry.  But, I want to challenge fellow believers in Christ to think deeply about what we see playing out on the world’s stage.  Is what we’re seeing some strange thing; some unforeseen trial?  Or, are we witnessing the fulfillment of the promise of suffering for Christ’s name?  And if we are witnessing this promised suffering, what should our response be?  I want to suggest three ways in which Christians can respond to the terrible events we have witnessed at the hands of ISIS, as well as the events that are sure to follow in the days/weeks/months/years ahead.

1. Pray for those who persecute the church

Pray for them. Get on your knees before Almighty God and plead with Him for the salvation of their souls.  Moses was a murderer, David had his mistress’s husband killed in battle to cover up the affair, and the Apostle Paul led the persecution against Christ’s church.  But God used them.  God saved them from their sins and transformed their lives.  In the case of Paul, God used him to be a church planting visionary in the first century and used him to spread the gospel throughout the known Roman world.  Are these ISIS fighters any different?  Have they done anything that God cannot forgive, and are they unusable by God because of their sin?  What would happen to the world if gospel transformation broke out within the ranks of ISIS?  Or is that too impossible for our God?  I don’t think it’s too impossible for God, and I think His people should be wearing out the carpet pleading for such a revival.

2. Pray for humility in our response

Our media is full of examples of the oppressed lashing out in violence against the oppressor; the little guy rising up to deliver the just reward to his foe.  In theaters, we cheer for the underdog and we (somewhat rightly) give our approval to the pronouncement of justice.  But, what does Scripture say our response should be regarding our persecutors?  Romans 12:19 says this:

Friends, do not avenge yourselves; instead, leave room for His wrath. For it is written: Vengeance belongs to Me; I will repay, says the Lord.

So, while we may feel the urge to repay evil with evil, our responsibility as Christians is to let God be God and we should just be us.  Does that mean we should not stand up for those who are oppressed?  Absolutely not!  We have a responsibility to fight for justice.  Vengeance on the other hand, is for God to deliver.  In order to keep ourselves from stepping on God’s toes, we need a huge dose of humility.

3. Be a Christ-like witness amid the discussion

When things bother us, our feathers get ruffled.  And, with the advent of social media and the ubiquity of the Internet in our pockets, it’s so easy for us to sound off and speak our mind (seriously, I’m writing a blog post right this second…at 4:42 a.m.)  As Christians, though, we are called to a higher standard.  Jesus said in Matthew 5:44,

But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.

With an audience like we have today, we have a greater opportunity to be a witness for Christ and His love.  I pray we use that to make a difference and show love to one another and encourage each other to do likewise.  So, rather than fill our social media streams and conversations with snarky memes and pithy sayings that advocate “eye for an eye” kinds of responses, perhaps we can put on a bit more Christ-likeness and challenge fellow believers to “love our enemies” and leave the vengeance to God.

What about you?  How will you respond?  When difficulty comes your way, or you witness some atrocity on the news, how will you react?  My prayer for you is that you react exactly how Christ would want you to.  Steep in His word, pray tirelessly for God’s strength and wisdom, and trust Him to lead you.  Perhaps together, as the body of Christ, we can make a difference.

3,000 is a big, significant number

Yesterday while I was listening to a sermon podcast from Summit Church, pastor J.D. Greear mentioned the significance of the number 3,000 regarding those who were saved after Peter’s sermon at Pentecost.  The story takes place in Acts chapter 2 and is the beginning of what we now call the church.

A little while before Peter took the pulpit, as it were, the believers in Jerusalem experienced the bestowing of the Holy Spirit as promised by Jesus.  The description of the Holy Spirit in Acts 2 is that of fire.  The point Pastor J.D. made was that in the Old Testament, when Moses came down from Mt. Sinai and discovered the people of Israel worshiping a golden calf, God struck down 3,000 people (Exodus 32:28).  God’s presence was often in the form of fire: Moses and the burning bush, the pillar of fire leading the Israelites through the wilderness, the fire that consumed Mt. Sinai when Moses met with God, etc.  It was dreadful and fearsome to those in the presence of the Almighty.

Yet, in a similar fashion, the God of the Universe rushes in to dwell with His people — literally within His people — as a fire.  And this time, people are not struck down, rather they are saved.  Instead of judgment being poured out on the sinner, grace and mercy and salvation are granted to the sinner.

That never “clicked” for me before.  And yet, as soon as he (Pastor J.D.) pointed out the connection, it all made sense.  Two things stood out to me as a result of this revelation: 1) God is sovereignly at work in every aspect of life, and 2) There is always something new to learn from Scripture.

Gotta do this more

Writing is this thing that I romanticize and wish I did more of.  I come across topics, events, and ideas all the time and wish I had an outlet to talk about them.  If you’re a friend, you probably already get an earful, but even sharing with a person one-on-one, as great as it is, isn’t preserved for later.  People keep journals and diaries for a reason, but not everything has to be as private as a journal.  Sometimes it’s okay to be more open.

So, here’s to more openness and more writing.   Now all I have to do is follow through 😉

Jesus’ Call to Come to Him – Part 1

This past weekend, I had the privilege of preaching in church for the very first time. I had the distinct pleasure of dividing God’s word to three services and was well received by all. In this and the next two posts, I want to share what I preached and what I learned as I studied Scripture in preparation for my inaugural sermon. I’ve changed the first point in the sermon slightly, though the content is the same. The sermon was drawn from Matthew 11:28-30.

Jesus calls sinners to new life

In Matthew 11:28 Jesus calls the heavy laden and worn out to come to Him. I can remember going about a task in an inefficient manner and hearing someone ask, “Why are you doing it that way?” The prophet Isaiah says it this way: “Why do you spend your money on that which is not food, and your labor for that which does not satisfy?” (Isa. 55:2) The truth is, we do things our own way because we believe we can do it better. In verse 29, Jesus uses the image of a yoke to describe the means of righteousness we seek to make us right with God. You see, we are all yoked by something. Jews in that day were yoked under the Law and were constantly reminded of that fact by the Pharisees. Jesus, in essence, is saying that the current yoke we’re tied to is inefficient and only serves to wear us down and make us weary, and in Him is something different, something better.

So, what do we yoke ourselves with today? In what ways to we say to God, “We can do it ourselves; our way is better”? Career, financial success, relationships, doing good—all these things serve as functional saviors in leiu of Christ. And, they don’t satisfy. Climbing the corporate ladder never seems like enough. There’s no such thing as enough money. People will inevitably let us down. And, we cannot do enough good for God to count us righteous.

At the end of the day, when we look back and realize our efforts are in vain, we’re left weary and heavy laden. Jesus not only calls us to follow Him, he also promises rest in doing so. Every one of us is looking for satisfaction and fulfillment in life. Such joy is found only in Jesus. His grace is enough (2 Cor. 12:9); in Him is true riches (Eph. 3:16); He is a true friend (John 15:3); His righteousness is sufficient when all ours are as filthy rags (Rom 3:21-26; Isa. 64:6). He commands only that we trust Him and follow Him. Our lives given to Him in exchange for eternal life with Him.

If you labor and are heavy laden, answer the call from Jesus and find true rest for your soul. Repent of your sin and trust in the perfect sacrifice made on your behalf by the one who will never fail you. He’s calling you. Will you answer?