IDOP: They’re Killing Our Brothers and Sisters

ISIS-2“I want to follow Jesus.  I don’t understand everything but I get that my problem is that I’m a sinner and Jesus is my only solution.  Can you help me?”  Remember how excited you were getting this call from a guy at work?  So you said, “Great!!  Before we go further, are you willing to be tortured and die for Jesus?”

Silence.  “Are you still there?”

Of course you didn’t.  We don’t.  We wouldn’t.  Should we?

Bloodletting is so common throughout Christianity’s 2000 year history that maybe we should.  Peter, Stephen, Polycarp, Perpetua and Felicity, Jan Huss, Hugh Latimer, William Tyndale, Jim Elliot, and Martin Burnham all died violently for the crime of following Jesus.  Hmm, Jesus did say others would hate us because others hated Him whom we follow (John 15:18).

November 2, 2014 is International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church, a day when Christians around the world join hearts to intercede for brothers and sisters.  It’s a day when attentions are often drawn to sufferers in places like North Korea, Saudi Arabia, and Laos.  This year ground zero is in the news almost daily.  Typically we don’t find stories of Christians being persecuted on network TV or at top web outlets.  The Islamic State advance has changed all of that.  After the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, some Iraqis took advantage of the instability to turn their fury on local Christians.  Many believers fled the country, and many ended up in neighboring Syria.  Then war swept into Syria in 2011.  Again Christians became targets.  In both countries, the absence of a strong central government left those who hate Christians unrestrained and the Church has paid a horrific price.

The fortunate ones loose their belongings and homes.  Others are beheaded, crucified, and watch powerless as their daughters are kidnapped to be sex slaves for the fighters.  What sounds like some horror flick is daily news.  Pray for our brothers and sisters in Iraq & Syria who are being systematically exterminated as a matter of public policy for the religious state raging out of Anbar Province.

And we should pray against our own sinful hate.  Their persecutors are blind (2 Cor.4:4) and in great need of Jesus.  Just like we once were.

Love the Church

Love the Church.

It’s the name of my blog.  And the message of the New Testament.

“Well, pastor, my Bible says to love Jesus!”  Yeah, but what other husband would be ok with people liking him but not his wife?  The church is just a collection of sinners–including ones who preach, so it’s understandable when people grouse about it for its less than perfect life and ways.  But what if love replaced lashing out?  What if knowing others replaced needling others?  What if lifting people’s spirits replaced crushing them?  What if carrying others’ burdens replaced casting stones at them?

A friend in the congregation linked me to the following post on The Gospel Coalition website.  I told him I thought that if everybody in a church was like this Philemon, it could conquer hell itself.

refreshingGuest Blogger: Jason Helopoulos

There are few epitaphs I would rather have engraved on my tombstone than Paul’s words of commendation to Philemon, “the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you” (Philemon 1:7). Oh, how I love Philemons and want to consistently be one!

It has been my pleasure to serve in the local church with some individuals that are truly “refreshing” to the saints. When you meet them, you know it! They are like an oasis in the midst of a desert. I walk away feeling encouraged, joyful, and spiritually stimulated. Unfortunately, they are an endangered species and much harder to find than should be the case.

I routinely examine myself by asking, “Do others consider me refreshing?” I wish that I could more routinely answer, “Yes.” I challenge you to ask yourself that same question and answer it honestly. I wonder, what would it be like if even one in ten of us were striving to be a refreshment to others in the local church? If that was part of our ministry aim, what kind of significant impact could that have upon our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ?

How do you refresh the hearts of the saints? It is only possible by one who knows the love and grace of Christ in such a way that it overflows to those around them. It is consistently present and abundantly evident. As I have inquired of those who I find to be such a refreshment to my own soul, they almost always testify that this gift, which they manifest, is something that they have deliberately sought to develop and nurture. Here are twenty practical ways that you can seek to nurture this refreshing gift in the midst of your own local church.

  • Greet people on Sunday mornings with a smile. It is o.k. to let your face say that you are “happy” to be at church. Go out of your way to say, “Hi,” ask questions about the lives of others, and listen attentively.
  • Visit the widows and shut-ins of your church. Take an afternoon and visit three or four. Sit, talk, listen, and be willing to look at their photo albums—all of them (1 Timothy 5:3)!
  • Have a mouth that is overflowing with grace (Ephesians 4:29) and is slow to wander down any other road.
  • Show up each Sunday morning with a mental list of three or four people that you are going to find and minister to (Philippians 2:4). Many of us walk into church with an attitude of, “I wonder who will minister to me today.” Nothing can be as drastically encouraging to a local church’s membership than a people united in the understanding that they are there to serve and love one another.
  • Be a Monday morning encourager instead of a Monday morning critic by sending your pastor an email detailing what you appreciated about his Sunday sermon.
  • Don’t rush out of church on Sunday mornings. Be one of the last to leave because you are taking the time to talk with everyone you can (this will be hard for the introvert—but some of the most engaging and refreshing people I have served with are introverts. They wear themselves out on Sunday morning). The football games and lunch will be there fifteen or thirty minutes later.
  • Often remind others of the benefits of salvation and the graces that flow from union with Christ. Let it season your conversations.
  • Routinely have a crock-pot meal or roast cooking on Sundays and spontaneously invite a visiting family or family-in-need for supper following the service.
  • Seek out those visiting the church, get to know them, and introduce them to others. Find connections and be a networker to the glory of God.
  • Aim to remember peoples’ names and greet them by name each Sunday (I wish I was better at this, because it means so much to people). The Cheers’ theme song had a point, we all feel loved when our name is known (Isaiah 49:16).
  • Refuse to speak ill of others in the congregation (Ephesians 4:31).
  • Get to know the children of the congregation and seek to talk to five different children each Sunday morning (Matthew 19:14).
  • Know the Word and season your conversations with it. This isn’t to impress others, but rather to encourage them in the faith. The Word does not return void (Isaiah 55:11).
  • Write and mail anonymous encouragement notes to members of the congregation. Why are we so hesitant to pass out encouragement? We can never encourage others too much (1 Thessalonians 5:11).
  • Always speak the truth with others (Ephesians 4:25). “Let your ‘yes’ be yes and your ‘no’ be no.” (James 5:12).
  • Ask the pastor if there is anything you can do to help him during the week and be willing to do it.
  • Refuse to listen to gossip or be a purveyor of it (2 Corinthians 12:20).
  • Willingly bear the burdens of others in the congregation (Galatians 6:2). This means praying for them, serving them, giving financially to help those in need, loving when love is not returned, and being quick to forgive.
  • Write thank you notes to volunteers in the church.
  • Rejoice in the Lord and lead others to do the same by your example (Philippians 4:4). Don’t be an agitator, complainer, or “negative-Nelly.” This doesn’t mean we are seeking to be Pollyannish, but rather simply rejoicing in the many benefits we have as those united with the Living God by the blood of the Son.

Don’t you love spiritually refreshing people? When we find them, we tend not to let them go—and for good reason. If we value this trait so much in others, is it not worth nurturing and encouraging in ourselves? It takes a little effort, a little self-denial, and a little grace, but all those around you will say it was well worth it. Dare to be a Philemon!

Why People With Bibles Don’t Read Them (4)

This is the last of four posts this week containing John Piper’s responses to the four main objections Christians most often give to reading their Bibles.

  1. . . . it seems so irrelevant to my life.”
  2. . . . I don’t have time.”
  3. . . . I go to church every Sunday.”
  4. . . . I find it confusing.”

John Piper has given thought-provoking responses to each and here’s his answer to the final one.

I find it confusing

One, make sure you have a modern translation that is readable, like the ESV or the NIV.

Two, make sure you’re in a church where the pastor explains passages from the Bible every Sunday.

Three, get a good study Bible like the ESV Study Bible. In a good study Bible there are notes at the bottom of the page to help answer a lot of the puzzling questions you will ask.

Four, read carefully and slowly and try writing a passage out. And I don’t mean write out the long stories in the Old Testament. I mean if you are stumbling over a verse or a paragraph in the letters or in the gospels, try writing it out by hand.

Five, join us online for Look at the Book [http://www.desiringgod.org/labs] episodes which are going public at the National Conference. In those videos, I will help guide you through texts. My hope is that these videos will instill habits of reading in you to make the Bible more understandable.

Six, pray. Pray for God to give you light. God loves to make his Son known. He sent him into the world at the cost of his life so that he could be known and loved. He is not interested in holding back from you the light that he gave with his Son and gave with his word.

Why People With Bibles Don’t Read Them (3)

This is the third of four posts containing John Piper’s responses to the four main objections Christians most often give to reading their Bibles.

  1. . . . it seems so irrelevant to my life.”
  2. . . . I don’t have time.”
  3. . . . I go to church every Sunday.”
  4. . . . I find it confusing.”

John Piper has given thought-provoking responses to each and  I’ll post one in each of this week’s blog entries.  Here’s his answer to the third one.

I Go to Church Every Sunday

I was a pastor and I loved it when people listened to my sermons. But something is wrong here. This is serious. If the word of God is coming with power each week, it doesn’t just satisfy hunger, it also creates hunger. I would have felt like a total failure if my people said, “Because of your preaching, we don’t read our Bibles.”

To someone who says the sermon is all I need, my question back would be this: Is it all you want? Why isn’t the meal on Sunday whetting your taste for more on Monday? Why not? It seems to me like we have two issues here. (1) How much of the Bible do we need? (2) How much of the Bible do we want?

Let’s take the second question. Why would you only want one passage a week from the Bible, from someone else? To me that’s like saying: I am in love, my sweetheart writes me every day, and I would like to just read her letters once a week, and I think I would like somebody else to read them for me and give me a digest of what she said. Are you kidding me? To only want to read one love letter a week when she is writing them every day is a sign that something is wrong.

The Bible is an unparalleled love letter to the people of God. The Psalmist says: “How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!” (Psalm 119:103). It just wouldn’t make any sense for the psalmist to say: “I get a spoonful of honey on Sunday and that is plenty. I don’t want any on Monday or Tuesday or Wednesday or Thursday or Friday or Saturday.” Instead he said: “Oh how I love your law! It is my meditation all the day” (Psalm 119:97). “More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold” (Psalm 19:10). “If you seek it like silver and search for it as for hidden treasures, then you will understand the fear of the LORD and find the knowledge of God” (Proverbs 2:4–5).

So why would you want only one glimpse a week of this beauty? Only one taste a week of this honey? Only one deposit a week of this silver in your bank? Only one letter from your lover?

I think I can say from experience, from history, and from the Bible: Every Christian needs more spiritual food than one meal a week. That doesn’t work physically; it doesn’t work spiritually. Temptations are too relentless. Doubt is too frequent. Satan is too active. Tribulations are too heavy. Conflicts are too many. Emotions are too volatile. Perplexities are too difficult. Faith, hope, and love are too threatened, to think I can deal with these all week long simply from one word I got on Sunday. I can’t do it. And I don’t think anybody can.

Why People With Bibles Don’t Read Them (2)

This is the second of four posts containing John Piper’s responses to the four main objections Christians most often give to reading their Bibles.

  1. . . . it seems so irrelevant to my life.”
  2. . . . I don’t have time.”
  3. . . . I go to church every Sunday.”
  4. . . . I find it confusing.”

John Piper has given thought-provoking responses to each and  I’ll post one in each of this week’s blog entries.  Here’s his answer to the second one.

I Don’t Have Time

[This is another very common struggle Bible readers face, and this question came from a mom with young kids who feels like there’s no time in the day for clear-headed, uninterrupted time in Scripture. In response, Pastor John turned the tables to address the husband’s role in serving his wife, and offered these six bits of counsel.]

One, set a tone of discipline and order in the home so that children are not running wild, but are submissive and obedient and self controlled. Partner with her in getting these kids under control with naps and bedtimes and meal times that are ordered times around which days can be built. My impression is that way too many parents today think their children should be allowed to control the atmosphere of the house. That is a big mistake at lots of levels, I think. So, Dad, step up, partner with your wife in establishing routines and expect obedience to her and to your authority.

Two, Dad, establish playtime with the kids every day. It will obviously change with the ages and so on, but give your whole attention to these kids every day at some point during which time your wife is free. For us, for many years, that was right after supper for about an hour.

Three, build retreats into her life so she gets a half-day or a full day every now and then. You figure out how often you can arrange for the children. You take them on Saturday morning all morning. Get periodic extended retreat times alone where she (and then you) can deal with the living God.

Four, lead your wife in the word so that her desire never wavers because of your example of pursuing treasure and sweetness in the word with her.

Five, give her adult conversation about important things including things from Scripture, so that she doesn’t lose perspective what all this time with the kids is for.

Six, pray for her. Husband, pray that your wife will find the motivation and discipline to enjoy God’s word.