An Apparent Defeat May Result in Victory

Golden-Lampstand-Church-pre-demolition-1100
The Golden Lampstand Church, pre-demolition.

In today’s entry in Streams in the Desert, I was reminded of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, who were thrown into an enormous fiery furnace when they refused to abandon their allegiance to the living God. Here was an apparent victory for the enemy. It looked as if God’s people were going to suffer a terrible vanquishment, but God saved them in and through the fire. We can imagine what a complete defeat the destruction of the Golden Lampstand Church in Linfen, China must appear to be to many, but as Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego emerged from the fire unsinged, so let us pray this apparent defeat will result in a marvelous victory for Christians.
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Defeat may serve as well as victory to shake the soul and let the glory out.

When the great oak is straining in the wind, the boughs drink in new beauty, and the trunk sends down a deeper root on the windward side.

Only the soul that knows the mighty grief can know the mighty rapture. Sorrows come to stretch out spaces in the heart for joy.

 

 

Praying the Church in China will grow ever stronger as Christians are coming under increasing persecution.

Daniel 3

https://www.opendoorsusa.org/christian-persecution/stories/chinese-government-blows-christian-megachurch-warning-local-churches/

Chastising Myself

IMG_2251 (1)I have been chastising myself since last night.

I had been in conversation on Facebook with a Jehovah’s Witness who had set up the straw man of John Shelby Spong as an “authority” on the subject of hell. He was using a video-taped interview with the heretical, now retired, Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Newark as support for his argument against the concept of eternal punishment. In earlier postings, he had made other pointed attacks against non-JWs. In turn, I had been sharing the manifold errors that I believe are clearly evident in the history and theology of the Witnesses. I had been praying that the man might be released from the deluding influence of the organization. In each encounter, he had responded using copious copied-from-JW sources. When in this most recent exchange, he came back with–what I took as–a compounding personal affront, I impetuously, without consulting the Lord, withdrew from the conversation and unfriended him, shaking the dust off my feet as a testimony against him.

Now I have spent most of my professional life studying world religions and new religious movements; I have engaged with many, many individuals walking innumerable paths. I can’t recall ever being the one to withdraw from a conversation, and I’ve been trying to comprehend why I did this time. I think I’m upset with myself because I fear it may have been the wounding to my person that served as the final straw and not the many affronts to Christ.

I woke this morning to find the following as the day’s devotional entry in Streams in the Desert. The line that leapt out from this was this: “Beloved, whenever you are doubtful as to your course, submit your judgment absolutely to the Spirit of God, and ask Him to shut against you every door but the right one.” It is possible that the Lord might have called me to withdraw from the conversation because other work needed to be done in the man’s life before he would be open to hearing what I had to say. The problem is I didn’t wait to hear from the Lord.

The devotional that follows gives a nod to one of my favorite verses (Isaiah 30:21): “Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, ‘This is the way; walk in it.'” I used to keep a copy of this verse on my desk at the seminary and churches I was serving. As I now sit at a crossroads in my life, I am especially grateful for the call to return to these words today. Sometimes doors are closed. Sometimes God directs our steps to the right. Sometimes we are led to go left. Sometimes, we’re told to stay put. And sometimes…

Here’s the devotional, with its admonition to look to the Lord for clear direction:

Having been kept by the Holy Spirit [at that time] from preaching the Word in Asia (Acts 16:6).

It is interesting to study the methods of His guidance as it was extended towards these early heralds of the Cross. It consisted largely in prohibitions, when they attempted to take another course than the right. When they would turn to the left, to Asia, He stayed them. When they sought to turn to the right, to Bithynia, again He stayed them. In after years Paul would do some of the greatest work of his life in that very region; but just now the door was closed against him by the Holy Spirit. The time was not yet ripe for the attack on these apparently impregnable bastions of the kingdom of Satan. Apollos must come there for pioneer work. Paul and Barnabas are needed yet more urgently elsewhere, and must receive further training before undertaking this responsible task.

Beloved, whenever you are doubtful as to your course, submit your judgment absolutely to the Spirit of God, and ask Him to shut against you every door but the right one. Say, “Blessed Spirit, I cast on Thee the entire responsibility of closing against my steps any and every course which is not of God. Let me hear Thy voice behind me whenever I turn to the right hand or the left.”

In the meanwhile, continue along the path which you have been already treading. Abide in the calling in which you are called, unless you are clearly told to do something else. The Spirit of Jesus waits to be to you, O pilgrim, what He was to Paul. Only be careful to obey His least prohibition; and where, after believing prayer, there are no apparent hindrances, go forward with enlarged heart. Do not be surprised if the answer comes in closed doors. But when doors are shut right and left, an open road is sure to lead to Troas. There Luke awaits, and visions will point the way, where vast opportunities stand open, and faithful friends are waiting.–Paul, by Meyer

 

International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church

According to the US Department of State, Christians in more than 60 countries face persecution from their governments or surrounding neighbors simply because of their belief in Jesus Christ. A report by Open Doors USA identified 2016 as the “worst year yet” (in the 25 years of its monitoring) for Christian persecution. Each month (an average of) 322 Christians die for their faith; 214 Christian churches and properties are destroyed; 772 forms of violence are committed against Christians, including beatings, abductions, rapes, arrests and forced marriages. The most dangerous place for Christians is North Korea followed by Somalia and Afghanistan. Pakistan rose to No. 4 but had the overall highest level of violence. Sudan was fifth, followed by Syria, Iraq, Iran, Yemen, and Eritrea.

Please pray for those who are being persecuted for the faith, not only on these days especially set aside for remembrance, but each day of the year.

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Linking to and Reflecting upon a Lament about Anti-Intellectualism in the Church

bible-Sunlight-1I’m linking here to a lament over what is true of all too many churches. It begins with the author’s recollection of a pastor who, in the course of his sermon, said he was discussing things he didn’t understand. Worse, he seemed to have made no attempt to get a grip on the Word and just moved on to something else. This disrespect for the Bible, this disrespect for the Lord, this disrespect for the congregation, infuriates me. I’m sick to death of sitting in church buildings where, on a Sunday morning, no meat and barely any milk is being served from the pulpit. I wince each time I hear a preacher say he or she disagrees with a biblical author on a point of scripture. I don’t want to hear a preacher’s opinion in the sermon; I want to hear what the Bible has to say. I long for content-rich messages that will fill me and keep me full through the week. Why are we settling for this anti-intellectualism? Why aren’t we demanding more from our preachers and more from the seminaries where they are being trained? So many churches are empty or emptying. Too few congregations seem to want genuine servant-leaders who will lead them and who will challenge them from the pulpit. Too many pulpits are being filled with preachers who have little to no training and have received no calling from God.

I was baptized in a church that had a teaching pastor. I looked forward to his sermons each week because I knew I would come away with greater knowledge of the Word and a clear sense of how I was to apply that Word to my life.

I was educated in a seminary that established me in the original biblical languages (Greek, Hebrew and Aramaic) and taught me to work from those in constructing the sermon. I was taught to define a word of scripture according to the original intent, distinguishing the meaning from how the sense of the word might have changed over the centuries. I was taught to consider syntax, parallels, and connections throughout scripture. I was charged with making certain that I would engage in exegesis (drawing out the meaning from each text in accordance with the context and the discoverable meaning of its author) rather than eisegesis (reading into the text what I might want it to say). I was taught to review the authorship, the date of writing, the initial audience, the context (historical, cultural, geographical, and literary), the customs, the current events… I was introduced to the most reliable Bible dictionaries, commentaries, concordances, and books on history and more. When called to preach, I would spend hours in research and would then cull the cogent and craft a sermon to deliver to the congregation. Now, I have been in plenty of churches where that level of academic rigor was carried into the pulpit and evidenced in each message. But, sundry reports and my own observations would suggest this erudition is on the decline.

I should note here that I didn’t mean to go on for so long. My initial intent was just to share the following link. But, every day, it seems, I come upon article after article lamenting the failure of our educational institutions and the decline of the Church. The Church mirrors Society, and Society mirrors the Church. Today, emotions are emphasized to the detriment of reason; entertainment, to the detriment of scholarship. Let us expect more. Let us be more.

https://www.equip.org/article/anti-intellectualism-church/