Are you growing concerned?

Are you becoming more aware of the news?  From financial issues, and suffering of those around us, to the world events – horrific news, startling, and possibly very overwhelming.

My husband and i have been a part of the prayer team of our church, and so we find ourselves filtering things through soft and purposeful conversation with God.  Painful bodies, fearful moms, unemployment, disobedient children, struggling marriages, and on and on.   Our needs as people are very great, and our dependence is growing greater and greater on God himself to provide and meet the needs.

But i must tell you that while i know our needs are important they seem to pale in comparison to our brothers and sisters around the world who are giving their lives for their faith in Jesus.

As I stand to sing worship choruses these past Sundays I realize how privileged we are to gather publicly, to give voice to our hearts cry of worshiping our great God without fear of imprisonment, beatings, death.  So as i close my eyes, and lift my heart and my voice to God I find myself lifting those believers around the world to Jesus, and ask for his presence in their lives.

Remembering Al and Eileen – We have friends who are Pakistani nationals, and have lived around the world. They are believers in Jesus.  And these last 10 years their government has not permitted them to leave their nation.  They are surrounded by 99.5% of their fellow citizens who believe in radical Islam, or tribal factions.  They have a life that is constantly one word or one action from death.  Al told us the last time he was visiting in the states that we need to pray for the believers in Pakistan like this:

  • Lord grant them wisdom to know your word, your heart, your spirit
  • Lord grant them favor with their neighbors that those who do not know Jesus might see his love extended through your people in that place.
  • Lord give opportunities to love, help and share your word with those who do not know
  • Strength, courage, boldness, fearlessness, God’s favor.

As the news continues to churn out photos and video of Christians being executed for believing in Jesus I can;t just stand in church and sing a worship chorus.  I am compelled to cry out for our brothers and sisters who are persecuted.  And i am compelled to cry out against the acts of injustice, shocking violence, of global bullying on a massive scale.

The rising tide of hatred and hostility of Christians is joined by the growing antisemitism that is playing out in the world.  Many are saying these are times much like that of pre-WWII, where people were being fed propaganda, believing ideology that was filled with venemous hatred, doctrines of demons.

America is not the same nation it was 5 years, 10 years, 20 years ago.  The news media is whipping up a hostility toward Christianity, our government is embracing poor judgement, and the leadership of our nation is growing sketchy.  Being a Christian is becoming a dangerous decision, with frequent news of charges pressed, court cases, etc for simplly living out our faith.

The winds of change are blowing.  Are we there in prayer, standing firmly asking our Great God and King to meet us, change our hearts, accept our repentance, and heal our land?

I am growing concerned – not of God, because i know he holds everything in his great care, but i am growing concerned that fellow believers seem to have little sensitivity to the great need to pray, to seek God with everything in our souls, and to ask for the needs of our fellow believers that are hurting.

“Father, forgive us for our self focus.  Forgive us for not praying for our rulers, our government, or leaders.  And forgive us for letting your word slide from our lives.  We repent today, and ask you to fill our  hearts and minds with your spirit, your word, your strength.  And we bring our brothers and sisters who are being fiercely persecuted to you.  Please be their strength, glorify yourself in your people, strengthen and embolden your church to stand in the presence of evil, and know your plan is to bring many to salvation.  

We pray for those who are the persecutors… may they come to know they are persecuting your people, and that you know every thought and act.  May you show yourself to them in dreams, visions, and manifest fear in their very souls.  We ask for their salvation, we cry to you to turn your enemies to repentent believers.  In everything may we sense your spirit, your provision, your protection and your love.  And may the world sense this too.  Amen”

What is a Cultural Christian?

Cultural Christian – its a term i have been hearing more and more, growing in popularity or at least discussed about much more.  What does it mean, and why is it so much in conversation these days?

cultural Christian is a secular or nonreligious individual who still significantly identifies with Christian cultureChristian deists of the 18th and early 19th centuries, such as Napoleon and various Founding Fathers of the United States, similarly considered themselves part of Christian culture, despite their doubts about the divinity of Jesus.

That is the definition on Wikipedia.  And i could probably quote the many different academics and theorists that claim this moniker.  But I dont care to do that.

George Barna REsearch group developed the results above to a series of questions that asked “Are More Chrisitans More Like Pharasees or More Like Jesus?  Barna writes of the study”

In this nationwide study of self-identified Christians, the goal was to determine whether Christians have the actions and attitude of Jesus as they interact with others or if they are more akin to the beliefs and behaviors of Pharisees, the self-righteous sect of religious leaders described in the New Testament.

In order to assess this, Barna researchers presented a series of 20 agree-or-disagree statements. Five actions and five attitudes that seem to best encapsulate the actions and attitudes of Jesus Christ during his ministry on earth. The researchers did the same for the Pharisees (10 total statements, five reflecting behaviors and five examining attitudes).

Kinnaman, president of Barna Group, directed the study. He commented on the creation of a “Christ-like” scale: “Our intent is to create some new discussion about the intangible aspects of following and representing Jesus. Obviously, survey research, by itself, cannot fully measure someone’s ‘Christ-likeness’ or ‘Pharisee-likeness.’ But the study is meant to identify baseline qualities of Jesus, like empathy, love, and a desire to share faith with others—or the resistance to such ideals in the form of self-focused hypocrisy. The statements are based on the biblical record given in the Gospels and in the Epistles and our team worked closely with a leading pastor, John Burke, to develop the survey questions.”

People responded to 20 statements, judging if the statements are self righteous actions or self righteous attitudes.  The results were plotted into the chart above… Shocking that a majority of the Christians responded in ways that suggest Pharisaical attitudes and Pharisaical actions.  Here is another chart:

The results are broken down by groups of responders, however again, responses seem to be greatest in the lower left quadrant..  How sad is this.

Taking God at his word

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I love our Wednesday evening group called “Going Deeper”.  Its a recap of the sunday sermon, with opportunity to  think through the message, and apply it to life.

We have been working through the core message of our church, and sunday was the message of us as community…. upholding each other, strenghtening each other , and encouraging good works.  Wow, is that ever needed in this age we live in where the rest of the world is busy trying to carve out everything they can for themself, and leave little for anyone else.

And wednesday we worked through reading Romans 12.  Romans 12 is perhaps one of the most endearing and powerful chapters God has used in my life.  The first two verses are like the high and holy experience of yielding, surrendering, and allowing God to teach, mold, change us into his very people.

I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.

2 And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.

Present yourself – not just go, but be in the moment – engage in the process of yielding yourself to God.

Living Sacrifice – what a comparison to the old testament where animals were killed, butchered and then presented as sacrifices.   Someone told me long ago that living sacrifices are difficult because they move, and crawl off the alter.  I can say that has been true of me, how about you?

Reasonable service – it is what God wants of us.

Be not conformed – don;t be like the world

Just so we don;t have a doubt he clarifies, be transformed – and more clearly be transformed by the renewing of our mind.  Renewal is for a purpose – to prove what is good and wonderful about God.

So the group continued to read Romans 12 – and we walked through those passages about not being puffed up, swelled with pride and thinking we are more than we are… and the gifts, the variety of gifts are there to work together to strengthen the body.

Romans moved on to the verses about how to behave, think and be.  Perhaps i have been hanging out in the kingdom for a long time because these verses, although some are challenging, are becoming more and more ingrained in my life, programmed in my thoughts and actions.  I want to honor god by doing good, blessing others, and even doing good to those who have not been like that to me.

But our group stopped.  And in honesty someone actually said “I dont like those verses, and i dont think they work in my life…. my problematic situation has not changed… and i have prayed for years. ”

It stirred in my heart again that hope that she would have the faith to trust God for his timing.  And I ernestly prayed that God would prove her words wrong by moving in that situation, bring change, ease strife, just show up.

I wanted to give her the faith God has given me to believe and trust in his word… even those extremely challenging, life transforming passages.  Especially those passages.   But why should we take God at his word and live by faith?

Why?  Because faith is required by God… it is far to easy to believe because we see it, and so illogical to the world to believe what we do not see.  But it is God’s way.

Why? Because as we trust in small things God strengthens us to trust more, and go deeper.  He challenges us to get to know his character, to know his word, to grow in grace and truth.

Why? Because it is God’s way to transform our minds, renew them with his thoughts, his ways, his timing, and his outcome.

In my life God has used Romans 12 to remind me that I must begin by yielding myself, dead to my own self and alive in Christ.  I must then work on that relationship with God – always allowing his word to wash over my soul and strengthen me, renew me, grant me peace.

It is only then that I can grow in my use of gifts to the church and ministry to the world.  And that ministry must be lead and guided by his word and his spirit.

Thank you father for your word, and for the gift of community – Thank you that we have others to walk with through this life, to bear each others burdens, and to rejoice with.  Thank you for the measure of faith you have given each of us.  May you expand our hearts to accept more of your word, and to believe without doubt. Father, thank you that this journey to heaven is not easy, but thank you that you are there to walk with us through each step.  Grow us stronger, deeper, and fill us with your wisdom, your fruit, your joy.  May we yield ourselves to you, and may you use our lives to build the body of Christ and the Kingdom of Heaven.  Amen