Our Prayer

Then Rabshakeh said to them, “Say now to Hezekiah, ‘Thus says the great king, the king of Assyria, “What is this confidence that you have? You say (but they are only empty words), ‘I have counsel and strength for the war.’ Now on whom do you rely, that you have rebelled against me? Now behold, you rely on the staff of this crushed reed, even on Egypt; on which if a man leans, it will go into his hand and pierce it. So is Pharaoh king of Egypt to all who rely on him. But if you say to me, ‘We trust in the LORD our God,’ is it not He whose high places and whose altars Hezekiah has taken away, and has said to Judah and to Jerusalem, ‘You shall worship before this altar in Jerusalem’?  Now therefore, come, make a bargain with my master the king of Assyria, and I will give you two thousand horses, if you are able on your part to set riders on them. How then can you repulse one official of the least of my master’s servants, and rely on Egypt for chariots and for horsemen? Have I now come up without the LORD’S approval against this place to destroy it? The LORD said to me, ‘Go up against this land and destroy it.'”‘” (2 Kings 18:19-25).

Remarkably the descendants of these ancient Assyrians are the ones who are currently oppressing God’s people (Christians, this time) in Syria and Iraq. World politics have changed enough that Egypt is no longer the hope for rescue, but the same ultimatum is being given – submit to us or die. They even justify their destruction by declaring that it is the command of their god.

As Hezekiah prayed for his people, so we need to be praying for the Christians in Iraq and Syria today. Earnest prayer for them will lead to earnest prayer for ourselves.

“Father, You are the Sovereign Lord Whose plans for this world will ultimately be fulfilled. As You revealed Your glorious power when Hezekiah and the city of Jerusalem were threatened, so we ask You to reveal Your power in this time.

“These infidels have scoffed at Your power no less than their ancestors did nearly 3000 years ago. They are intent upon establishing their rule and displaying their god as the supreme deity in this world. But You make it clear that You had/have no rival (then or now), that all who dare to exalt themselves to Your position will be cast down. In ancient times You destroyed their army by killing 185,000 in a single night so that they limped back to their home where their leader was assassinated. How You choose to protect Your reputation and show Your glory this time is Your own decision. We simply cry out that You will do it soon.

“We grieve the martyrdom of many of our brothers and sisters in Christ, and the persecution others are enduring for Your Name. Sustain the families of the martyrs by the comforting ministry of the Holy Spirit. One of the early Church Fathers observed that “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church,” and so we ask that this would be true in this day as well, that the persecution of Your Church will be a blessing to Your Kingdom.

“Open the eyes of many in our world who have shown no interest in Your Truth so that they may see the assured confidence of those who die with Your name on their lips. Make clear to them that the persecutors are the deceived and the cowardly while those who stand with Jesus to the death will receive the ultimate reward.

“Open the eyes of those for whom the Christian faith is merely a form without substance. Don’t let them straddle the fence; bring them to the point that they must decide to reject You or follow You wholeheartedly.

“Finally, Father, renew in each of us who bears Your name the resolve to follow You to the death, if it is Your will. We recognize that in this world the name of Jesus is increasingly being denounced, and the pressures to turn from Him are growing stronger. Diminish the attraction of this world; magnify the world to come in our hearts.

“We ask this for Jesus’ glory and with His authority. Amen.”

The Transformed Heart

But we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block, and to Gentiles foolishness, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God (1 Corinthians 1:23-24).

The key idea of these two verses is the contrast between the unbeliever and the believer. Paul uses the phrase, “the called,” to identify the believer, whether he is Jewish or not. Increasingly in this Twenty-first Century, though, American churches are being populated by people who don’t understand the power of the transformed heart.

In Paul’s day, of course, to be a Christian meant that a person had to take a stand for Jesus; their baptisms were not inside the safety of a church’s baptistry, but out in the open, in a stream or a pond, where everyone could see. Christianity was not yet the State religion, the worship of Caesar was, and at various times and places in the First Century a public stand for Jesus would lead to persecution. In those times and places, the believer had to rely upon the power and wisdom of Christ within him.

When Christ transformed my heart many years ago the Holy Spirit made it clear that I couldn’t live by my wits or on the strength of someone else’s faith. I had to turn to Jesus – the the wisdom of His Word, applied to my life by the Holy Spirit – to deal with the issues in my life. As a young man back then those issues were not as complex as they would be if I were to meet Jesus today, but they were just as real. Thankfully as I continued to read and ponder the Scriptures, the entanglements of sin didn’t get as strong of a hold on me. But I noticed that many of those around me either couldn’t get past some aspect of their perception of Christianity (they “stumbled”) or they just considered my faith to be foolishness. Usually those who “stumbled” had some previous exposure to the Church (even if they weren’t ethnically Jewish) while those with very little or even no exposure just considered the Christian faith to be laughable.

But in our day the need for a transformed heart is not proclaimed with quite the urgency as in earlier generations of the Church. Since “sin” has become a “four letter word” in many circles, forgiveness is not proclaimed either. The proclamation has become “Christianity light” – all the flavor of Christianity with nothing that will offend. And in much the same way that people can get used to diet beverages (alcoholic or not), this generation has gotten used to the “light Church.”

The antidote to the “light Church” is the proclamation of “Christ crucified,” leading to the truly transformed heart. Along with Paul, we must let the chips fall where they may. If people stumble over this message or consider it foolishness, let them – because they are lost. And before they can be found (“called” in Paul’s vocabulary), they must realize they are lost.

A Great Apologetic

“Elect from every nation, yet one o’er all the earth…”

This line, from the old hymn, “The Church’s One Foundation,” is one of the best apologetics of the Christian faith. Few things demonstrate more clearly the Truth of the Gospel than the unity of believers despite time or cultural boundaries.

For example, the Nineteenth Century writers who truly knew Christ didn’t seem to care how long their essays or sermons, reports or articles were. Perhaps they knew that their readers would probably have little other things to read, so they were verbose by our standards. Yet among those who truly walk with Christ, their experiences are the same and their writings resonate with authenticity. The atonement of Christ cleansed them of sin just as readily as it does the modern believer and their experience of forgiveness moved them to action even as it does believers today.

On the other hand, the writings of unbelieving men, though they may be considered by literary experts as important and even classical works, do not suggest a real knowledge of the internal work of the Holy Spirit. Perhaps there is common thread of human experience that they express well, but they lack the joyful freedom that believers find in the finished work of Christ.

The same can be said when we meet people of different cultures. Because the Gospel of Jesus transcends culture, a believer from Africa has a oneness with a believer from Southeast Asia and a genuine fellowship with another believer from North or South America. The Christian experience is remarkably similar despite the cultural differences. Since we began as a mission society, our denomination likes to remember that there will be some from “every tribe and tongue and people and nation” gathered around the throne of Jesus singing His praise when this life is over. The vast multitude will not be predominantly caucasian. Indeed if the believers alive right now as you read this blog are an accurate cross-section of the population of heaven, it is likely that caucasians will be in the minority. But it won’t matter. And I personally doubt that we will even think of racial or ethnic distinctions in that wonderful place. The only race that will matter will be the human race!

One of the principles that has guided our missionary enterprise for the past century and a quarter has been the reality that because the Gospel is transformational to every culture, the Church should be an expression of believers from that culture. We don’t plant churches that are reflections of our American Christian experience; we plant indigenous churches – the genuine expression of forgiveness and personal discipleship in those cultural settings. Then, when believers meet from other cultures, they share the common experience of service to the same Lord.

In Demonstration of the Spirit’s Power

My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on men’s wisdom, but on God’s power (1 Cor 2:4-5).

             There are times when, despite my best efforts and thorough study, my delivery of the sermon just doesn’t go well. I feel out of synch and imagine that my hearers are having as much trouble following my thoughts as I am in communicating them. Recently when that happened, I was grateful that God answered my regular prayer that He would speak despite me. The responses I received were significant.

             The preacher is to be the Lord’s mouthpiece. In the tradition of the Old Testament prophets, the preacher is to declare with authority, “Thus says the Lord…” to this generation. We cannot do this unless we have an authoritative text from which we are working. I have often wondered how those who reject the Scriptures find something to say week after week. My words and ideas are not that wise, creative or important.

             But when that sure Word is clear from my study; when I have understood the text of Scripture and am prepared to apply its truth to this generation, it is terribly frustrating to come to that place in the service and be distracted either by my physical circumstances or by something external in the environment – like the air conditioning malfunctioning or the powerpoint presentation not working or some other distraction. It is in these times when I am reminded that this is a spiritual work, and that it is the Holy Spirit who is speaking, not me. No part of the Worship Service – if it is really a WORSHIP service – should be characterized as a performance, especially the sermon. I want people to think well of me because I want them to think well of my Savior, but like Paul, I want my people’s faith to rest upon God’s power not my “wise and persuasive words.”