Friday, February 19, 2016

President Obama Proves Jesus' Premise

As Christians in the Middle-East, we were not comfortable. It seemed like we always had to be looking over our shoulder and behind our back to be sure that there wasn’t somebody waiting to stab or shoot us. It is just the reality of life under Islamic dominated states. It is the cost of being Christian in any Islamic state.

We should not surprised by the fact of persecution. Jesus told his disciples in John 15:18-20, “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. Remember what I told you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master. If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also.” The first disciples of Jesus were persecuted just as Jesus predicted, and we find ourselves in the same situation even today.

But I thought that Jesus’ prediction might not be entirely true. Maybe Muslim minorities in secular states are being persecuted too. I thought that might be just the nature of the world and not necessarily a Christian spiritual fact. But I was wrong.

Muslims in secular countries are as strong as in Islamic countries. When Iranian president Hassan Rouhani visited the Italian Museum, the nude statues were covered and the wine was banned in respect to his Islamic law. I wonder if Rouhani would do the same thing for the Pope if he would visit Tehran! Would the Pope be allowed to enter the mosque without first performing the Islamic cleaning rituals? Can Hillary Clinton visit Tehran without her head being covered with a scarf? 

I don’t think so. Islam always wins in the Middle-East and in the West. Christians seem to have no rights in either place. And that makes Jesus’ premise and prediction come true. In the Middle-East we are being persecuted, arrested, offended and threatened for doing nothing legally wrong. I have never seen a government official, a parliament member, or a president say anything in regard to this, let alone pay us a visit to ensure our safety or our right to exercise our religious or political life.

In America, as soon as there was tension in the air against Muslims due to the events in France and California, every governmental official started apologizing to the Muslim minorities. Muslims themselves have been protesting and yelling and defending their political and religious rights. I wish we could do the same thing in the Middle-East. In America, even President Barack Hussein Obama paid the Baltimore Mosque a visit as a gesture to ensure the safety of Muslim minorities and their right of practicing their religion without fear. Which again, made me wish that we had the same right in the Middle-East, as well as the same president like Obama, who proved Jesus’ premise to be correct. It is not the nature of the world that brings persecution upon Christians, but the animosity of the world toward Christ and the Christian Church.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Inside, Outside, Upside Down

What I have learned from ministry over the years has lead me to believe that our understanding of the church may be backwards and upside down. Our challenge is always to search the Bible to keep our perspective in line with God's. That means if what we assume is not what God says, we must adjust our thinking and change our activity. Even in what we believe about the purpose, structure, and activity of the church.

Early on, as a young pastor, I began to write down some assumptions about church and what I discovered in the Bible that demonstrated a need to change my thinking about church leadership, ministry, and our purpose. What developed was a list that I used as the Core Values when we started Grace Point Church in Buffalo, NY.

I summarize the challenge these statements present as thinking "Inside, Outside, Upside-down." We are challenged by what God wants to do spiritually on the inside of our lives and collectively as a church. We focus outside of ourselves as God calls us to interact with others in the way Jesus would. And when it comes to ministry, we have to flip our approach upside-down from some traditional approaches and structures.

These values are not necessarily new or original with me. They do come from the Bible after all, and others have stumbled onto them, taught them and even implemented them. After much thought, prayer and practice, here is the list so far. I am simply going to state them with a supporting scripture. I will unpack each one more in future posts. Please comment and interact. How can you put these into practice in your ministry and church?

1. God is on a Mission; we must discover what God is doing and get involved. Ephesians 1:3-14

2. We can't "go to church;" followers of Christ are the Church 1 Peter 2:4-10

3. Worship is not an event; it is a lifestyle of loving and serving God. 
-  Romans 12:1-2

4. Ministry is not a program; it is people serving God by serving others. 
- 1 Peter 4:10-11

5. Pastors are not "the ministers;" they are servants who create environments where all God’s people are equipped and encouraged to serve. -  Ephesians 4:11-13

6. The Church is not homogeneous; our ethnic diversity represents the fullness of God in humanity and strengthens our ability to reach our community and world. - Acts 13:1-3

7. God's goal is not our comfort; it is for life transformation which comes through 
the application of biblical truth. 2 Timothy 3:14-17

8. Simple organizational structures allow the flexibility to be most effective in God's mission. 
-  Acts 2:42-47

9. Loving like Christ is not easy; it is essential for our relationship with Christ that we view and interact with people who are overlooked and ignored
- Matthew 25:31-46

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

God Is More Powerful Than ISIS

ISIS is driven by fanatic Islamism, and the West is driven by secular liberalism. Young people are stuck between materialism on one hand and new age spirituality on the other. And a few, like a person I met at church, are seeking certainties based on mathematical equations and logic.

We can call it post-Christianity world, or pre-Christianity. Names don’t matter anymore. It is the world of sin, fear and confusion. And, for such a world Jesus came. Middle East refused him as a blasphemy against God, and the west turned him down as foolishness.

Paul said in 1 Cor. 1:23 said, “but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.” The bad news is that the facts that Paul, you and I know are overwhelming, but the good news that God is more powerful than the facts.

People don’t find the Gospel attractive for cultural, spiritual, psychological, religious … etc., reasons. We as Gospel preachers, may not have the power to penetrate their minds and change their reasoning, but we have the power to pray to the One who does have the power over every single mind in this world. Jesus said in John 6:44, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them, and I will raise them up in the last day.”

So let us not be discouraged by the stubbornness of the world and lose hope, but let us be diligent and courageous for the One who is with us is more powerful than the one who is against us. As Paul says in Romans 8:31, “What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?”