Yearly Archives: 2020

History Brings Hope: The Church in Times of Crisis, Part 1

As we weather the coronavirus, we must be vigilant and wise, while retaining helpfulness to our neighbors and hopefulness to a world awash in fear. This is a moment to be thankful for local churches and charities as people under economic and emotional pressure experience the weight of very trying circumstances.

It is right to lament and repent for the moral scandals that often plague religious communities. Today’s 24/7 news cycle brings negative news with an immediacy that is jarring…and helps us forget all the good things that are happening through the efforts of millions of caring people, including people in our local churches.

In this essay, I want to recount some bright moments when the Church expressed her best virtues and served sacrificially, even when under great duress. Generosity is baked into the gospel and the mission of the Church. The Apostle Paul spent years evangelizing Jews and Gentiles – and he called upon the non-Jewish believers in Christ to sacrificially give toward their Jewish brothers and sisters suffering under a severe famine in Judea (Acts 11-20; 2 Corinthians 8-9). In addition to examples of Jesus and biblical texts extolling helping others, here are some heroic moments that can inspire us in our current situations:

249-250 AD: Emperor Decius declares an empire-wide assault on Christians, including demanding that they sacrifice to Caesar, and the destruction of buildings and libraries. At the same time, a serious plague came upon several places in the empire (coincidence?). The governors charged with carrying out this evil edict petitioned the Emperor and requested a delay in persecution. Why? Because it was Christians that were offering care and comfort to plague victims! Even under severe pressure, they were caring for all, enemy and friend alike.

440s and 450s: As Attila the Hun and other outsiders carve up the Western Roman Empire, it is the Church that maintains order and distributes food amidst the conquests. The Popes negotiated with the conquerors and ameliorated (in places) some of the atrocities and enable food to get to the populace.

6th and 7th centuries: The Benedictine Order and other monastic groups are doing much more than praying. They are establishing the first hostels for visitor, hospices for the dying, and rudimentary hospitals for the sick. They also add to the overall economy with sustainable agriculture, waterwheel technology and generosity.

12th-15th centuries: Long before the Reformation, Roman Catholic scholars are teaching the goodness of free trade and natural pricing in contrast to the mercantile controls governments often placed on goods. The University of Salamanca in Spain led the way in affirming what we now know as the principles of ethical free enterprise, in service of, “The brotherhood of Mankind.”

The Reformation (16th century): We see a leap forward in affirming “ordinary” work as equally important to God as “religious” labor. Without denigrating the importance of sacerdotal leadership, all Protestant streams affirm the priesthood of all believers (see Exodus 19:6 and I Peter 2:9-10), offering one’s daily efforts as worship before God. And this led to unprecedented expansions in charitable giving, entrepreneurship, and economic change.

In the next essay, we will examine the last five centuries of goodness through the Church, without sugarcoating the historical challenges. May we be inspired in our context toward creativity and innovation.

Love During a Pandemic: A Special Message of Hope

Dear Friends,
We are praying for God’s peace and wisdom for all as we endure a very challenging season. This is a moment for hopeful realism, for faithfulness under pressure, sober thinking, and eternal hope. I encourage us all to read Psalm 46 and Hebrews 12 – in these “shaking” moments, God is working, refining our character and allowing the Church to be a beacon of spiritual power and sanity.

Here is a special work by Kathy, entitled, “You See Broken; I see Mended” The “I” is the Lord, who brings the power of the Cross to bear in every situation.

This painting was being finished with another theme – that of heavenly power and purity. In the process of moving it, it was torn. At first, it felt like everything was ruined…but Kathy saw an opportunity and wove a cross into the painting. One of God’s names in Yahweh-Rapha, the Lord our Healer. The Hebrew term for healing includes the image of mending by stitching. God love to take the scars and tears and create a wellspring of compassion and wisdom. 

Friends, today we have an opportunity to share faith, hope, and love in a world paralyzed by fear. Yes, we need to follow sound guidelines and navigate health concerns with wisdom. But we have many channels open – from personal conversations to virtual communication. Above all, we can affirm and demonstrate hope and share Christ with all around us. We are not immune to suffering; however, we serve a Lord who suffered and triumphed over all sin and sickness, sorrow and sadness and in his resurrection, Jesus offers a preview of the glorious future awaiting all who place their trust in him! (Hebrews 2-5; 11-13)

Let’s stay faithful to our local church in this moment. We do this by attending the online services, generously giving, and being available to help those in need. Our pastors and communities need us more than ever. Let’s stay faithful in prayer and support of the ministries we care about. These organizations are serving sacrificially and our generosity matters.

Understanding this hour: the spiritual warfare is real!

As we grow in character, experience new depths of community, and work for the common good, it is important we remember that we have an adversary, who, unlike our wonderful Lord, is out to deceive, dehumanize, destroy, discourage, and distort present circumstances. Our best posture in humble confidence in our Advocate, Jesus Christ, the King of Kings. We combat our enemy with love and truth: exchanging deception for integrity, dehumanization for affirming God’s image in all, destruction with creativity, combatting discouragement with hope, and confronting distortion with pure hearts and skillful hands, bringing beauty to brokenness.

May the Lord bring his comfort and peace to you during this unique Lenten Season.

A Peaceful Revolution in Discipleship: Living in 5-D

Praying for a peaceful revolution in Christian discipleship, with millions of “ordinary” believers awakening to God’s presence and power in the midst of daily life. It is possible to enjoy God, become more whole, have healthy relationships, live with purpose, and do today’s tasks as worship. We have more resources than ever before for growth, but often see believers living emaciated lives. We need a fresh vision of “normal” that can inspire hope and propel institutional and personal transformation. Thank God for all our fine pastors and good resources. But there is an “Aha!” moment that must capture our imaginations for real progress.

Here is the revolutionary key: reconceiving the Christian life in terms of dimensions and outcomes instead of categories and classes is the key to fruitfulness. Sermons and Sunday schools, Bible studies and small groups, online and print programs: all of these are the means to a desired end, not the end in themselves! Check out this special Assessment for further understanding: www.discipleshipdynamics.com.

Life is dimensional and integrated, not just a “to do list” of boxes to be checked (yes, it is good to order our day’s activities!). The challenge for each person is understanding what “there” looks like. In other words, what are we aiming for, in principled and practical terms? Hebrews 13:7 offers this advice: “Consider the outcome of their (spiritual leaders) way of life and imitate their faith (both belief and action).” The next verse says, “Jesus Christ is the same, yesterday, today, and forever.”

Being a follower of Christ means imitation Jesus’ attitudes and actions, dispositions and disciplines, with a desire to love God, love our neighbor and make more disciples from every culture. What does this look like in real life? There are five dimensions to our lives that are all part of God’s plan and therefore they are all “spiritual” there is no sacred/secular divide, no separation of Sunday ecstasies and Monday’s ethics. Here are the five dimensions:

  • Loving God with all our being: enjoying and growing in intimacy with the Trinity. This is true spiritual formation and includes all the classical disciples of prayer and Bible study, church attendance and Sabbath-rest, etc.
  • Personal wholeness is an organic fruit of true intimacy with God. We lean to overcome our painful history with hope, manage our negative emotions, see ourselves as loved by God, forgive others and discover inner peace.
  • Healthy relationships are the implication of “loving our neighbor as ourselves.” This include healthy boundaries, sexual purity, good friendships and much more…think of all the great “one another” texts of the Bible.
  • Vocational clarity is the fulfillment of Ephesians 2:10: we are designed for a purpose and we are always more than our current job. Knowing our natural and spiritual gifts, the dignity of our labor and serving with humility should inform our lives daily.
  • All of these dimensions are worked out as we live in a world of economics and work each day! Whether paid or unpaid, labor or leadership, private or public, almost everyone spends their waking hours actively doing something. This is not our secular life nor are our activities merely a means to an end…our work matters to God.

Imagine millions of God-fearing friends awakening to the fullness of God’s intentions and offering all daily activity as worship to God. Imagine seamless integration of evangelism and compassion, for-profit and non-profit efforts, and prayer and the pursuit of justice. A peaceful and powerful revolution indeed.