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Posts Tagged ‘missions’

I guess God wants me to be thinking about these things.  On Saturday I was at a prayer meeting for a friend headed off to Africa on a three month mission trip.  Another prayer warrior present told me afterwards that one of his pastors has been in Nigeria for a few days, where the gospel was preached.  The report is that 150,000 people came forward to be saved by the blood of Jesus.  Numbers like that blow my mind.  I’ll admit, however hopeful I am, I’m skeptical.  But what if God really is moving in places like India and Africa?  What if the people in closed Muslim nations really are dreaming dreams about Jesus and running across Bibles and meeting people who will quietly preach the truth to them?

The man told me something else about Nigeria.  He said that in eight days, they witnessed two people raised from the dead.  The first was being carried, four days, by his father, to the evangelists.  By the time the child reached them, he was dead.  But the team of preachers prayed anyway, and the child came back to life.  Hearing that, another person attending the revival went and got his son from the morgue.  He’d died of a bullet wound in his chest.  They prayed for him, and he is alive now, too.

What would have happened if there had been no hope in those evangelists for the impossible?  What if, believing death to be God’s final answer, everyone had behaved rationally and ignored the impossible?  How often do I fail to even consider asking God for a miracle?

These reports are third or fourth or even fifth hand.  But I think it’s hard to confuse whether someone was dead and is now alive.  And why would you lie about things like that?  Still, my American rationalism, my lack of experience with supernatural things, pushes hard against reports about miracles.  Should I believe it?  What does it mean for me anyway?

My story isn’t over…  A few hours after that Saturday meeting (probably early on Sunday), a good friend was encouraging me that the Spirit of God is moving – an admonition to keep crying out to see Him move here, in the world around me.  My friend said that there are a group of church-planting pastors in India who prayed for someone and saw them brought back from the dead as well.  I hadn’t shared what I’d just heard from someone else.  So.

Two sources.

Two countries.

Three resurrections I heard about,

in one day.

And the time is coming, in less than a week now, when we celebrate the resurrection of Christ.  We remember that He has all authority, and has given power to us, through His Holy Spirit.  We have hope that even death that lasts for decades is not forever for those who believe.

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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I’m in between churches right now – between congregations. All summer and fall I’ve been casually attending the meetings of various friends. I can’t tell you how wonderful it feels to not be obligated to make an appearance at any one building on a Sunday morning. I might tell a friend I’m coming, or I might decide Saturday night. Some Sundays I sleep in. Sunday morning heathenism is rather refreshing.

Except it isn’t heathenism. A lot of what happens in those buildings on Sunday mornings is of heathen origin. But heathenism is a lot more than skipping a sermon and praise concert. It is a lifestyle of rejecting God, and that I certainly have not done.

I believe the Bible teaches Christians to gather regularly with each other. That isn’t something I have abandoned either. My recent experience is filled with times of fellowship and encouragement with other believers. We do ministry together, hold each other accountable for our walks with God, philosophically tackle the dilemmas we’re facing, study the Bible, and pray. During these times we also tend to eat, to play games, to laugh and tease, sometimes to work. Kids running around get swept up by disciples of Jesus, who – like Him – love children.

About a month ago some friends invited me to their church. I went that weekend. This week they asked me what I thought, and didn’t I like it (since I hadn’t been back). And I froze, because, well, I did like it. The people were friendly and the teachings were biblical and stimulating. But I don’t think I’ll join. This Sunday I did go back there, though. And my friends’ thirteen-year-old son confronted me, “I thought you said our church was just ‘ok’.”

Hard to explain. This particular church is on the good end of mainstream churches. They have good doctrine. A lot of their money goes to missions. Kids are with parents in church for most of the time, and youth aren’t separated from their families. The music isn’t too loud or too self-centered. With a congregation of about 50, the pastor and teachers can know everyone.

After pondering for a day or so, here is my answer to the thirteen-year-old friend: (it’s alliterative so I can remember!)
1) Plurality. There is only one pastor at the church. He’s the head man. I believe Jesus is the head of the Church, and that leadership beneath Him must be shared among more than one equal. Whenever real life cases are discussed in the New Testament, the word is used in the plural. (Elders) In this way they can model cooperation and problem solving. Congregations and pastors are kept mindful that Christ is the true head, and that the Church is His project. Also, when one is weak, there is another to be strong, the proverbial man to pick you up when you fall. Two are better than one and a cord of three strands is not easily broken. Pastoring is a lonely job, being at the top instead of a part of your congregation as friends and brothers. My Bible describes a different sort of dynamic, where pastors are respected for being respectable and where everyone is exercising his gifts for the good of all: pastors, prophets, discerners, helpers, administrators, on and on.
2) Property. This was quite confusing to my friend, who expects people to scorn his church for meeting in the club house of a condominium complex. Whether you own a building, rent it, or have borrowed money from a bank to claim that you own it, all represent instances where the Church of God has used resources God entrusted to them not to do what He has instructed: caring for the poor, widows, orphans, and missionaries – but to have a separate place to meet. I believe churches are meant to be gathered in homes. Limited in size, surrounded by hospitality and everyday life, the atmosphere of house church encourages the participation of everyone, the familial fellowship of believers, and the synthesis of sacred and secular.
3) Preaching. The New Testament describes and even commends preaching. Except almost always the lecture style sermon was delivered to an unsaved audience. It is a tool of evangelism. And evangelism is not the purpose of the regular gathering of believers. In fact, the church meetings described in 1 Corinthians are much more open and unstructured than what we usually think of as church. No one was scheduled to speak. Anyone (any man?) was allowed to bring a word, be it a prophecy, a teaching, a tongue – as long as he spoke it for the edification of the group. He may share a testimony of God’s work or an instruction or challenge the Spirit laid on his heart to give to his friends. A teaching might be towards an identified deficiency of understanding or may flow out of the studies individuals are making during the week on their own. Prophecy may correct the direction the congregation is going, may identify weaknesses and strengths among them, may warn them, or may give them hope and vision for the future. Some verses indicate that individuals may also bring songs of their choosing to the meetings of believers, with which to encourage each other.

Now that I’ve said those things, I do believe that there is a place for the lecture-style teaching we call sermons. I really enjoy Bible conferences, and am not opposed to worship concerts where the band has practiced and is intending to honor God. When I visit my friends’ churches, I usually view those services as conferences, and I look for the Spirit-driven gatherings elsewhere. At this stage of my life I’m not content with the small groups and Bible studies that have been getting me by. So I’m still looking, reading books and searching websites from people who are practicing what the Bible teaches about Church. I’m excited to see where that leads.

Some questions remain, stronger tensions between the familiar and the ideal: how is authority supposed to work in the church? Is it important? Is it a matter of exercising authority or of submitting to authority? How much should we submit? What shall Christians do for evangelism? Wouldn’t it be better to team up? But is it wrong to invite people in to hear the gospel, or should we go out to them? Are women to speak in the church meetings? If not, why on earth did Paul say so? – Just to prove I don’t think I know everything!

To God be all glory,
Lisa of Longbourn

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           Each devotion in Godcast begins with a verse and ends with a prayer.  In between will be thoughts and anecdotes with a point, usually related to church or Christian living.  The articles are not deep, or set on expositing Scripture.  Its strength is application.  Generally this is a good book, though lighter than my preference.  And there were some frequent points that made me frustrated. 
 
          This book could be summed up with the following oft-repeated statements:
 

God has given us all the resources: physical, mental, spiritual, monetary to do
what He wants us to. 
 
The only critic who matters is the One
with nail prints in his hands. 
 
You must tithe. 
 
Get involved in missions: if you can’t go overseas, then pray and
pay for people to go overseas.

  
 
            The first statement is the real value of this book.  My favorite of the one-page chapters all dealt with the bigness of God, freeing me to depend on His grace. 

            But the third and fourth statements, which I’m not kidding, show up word for word about every fifteen pages, bother me.  I know that there is a large segment of Christianity that believes tithing is still God’s plan.  But it just isn’t in the Bible.  The Old Testament is filled with descriptions of the tithe, and rules about tithing.  Malachi is the last book of the Old Testament, written to the Jews.  It calls the people thieves for not bringing God’s tithe into the storehouse.  Malachi wrote for Jews, under the law, with 400 plus years to go before the law was fulfilled and the new wine of the covenant was poured into new wineskins.  The author of Godcast claims that the church is the New Testament equivalent to the “storehouse,” because from thence we get spiritual nourishment.  He goes so far as to say that donations to other ministries cannot be counted as a tithe.  (He’s a pastor of a huge church with lots of staff and a multi-million dollar building.)  Each prayer on these chapters is unobjectionable, asking for a spirit of faith and giving and that God would give us wisdom to use His resources for His purposes.  I am all for giving, and was both blessed and challenged by his admonitions to a lifestyle embracing sacrifice. 
            Associated with this emphasis on regular, budgeted tithing to a single local church are some typical mega-church priorities with which I disagree: large congregations (in the thousands), expensive buildings, seeker conformed methods (A disturbing chapter is on needing bait as fishers of men, but the bait isn’t Jesus and life and salvation; it’s coffee!), professional staff, overly-planned and programmed worship services.  In a denomination like Assemblies of God, with its emphasis on the Holy Spirit, it is strange to me that they want to keep so much out of His control and fitted into a mold of traditional church structure.  On a positive note, the priority of his ministries seems to be people more than things or organizations. 
            Missions is obviously something to which every Christian is called, but we are not necessarily called to the easy task of being a missionary of supply.  Mr. Betzer is from the Assemblies of God, and I’ve been raised more or less in the Baptist tradition, but where I come from, we’re not given the excuse of saying that we send missionaries, but don’t have to preach the gospel ourselves.  There is just as much a mission field here in America as there is internationally, and so if you are not called to go overseas, you have a huge work here in your own city.  I believe that Mr. Betzer lives this way, though his lingo is misleading.  
             One other large concern to me is the focus on works and human responsibility.  If we do not preach the gospel to our friend, God is unable to save him.  If we fail to take our children to Sunday school, their lives will not be set on a godly course, and they will miss their calling.  Such are a few of the points made in this book.  
            To end on a better note, one of the chapters (#213) I read on election day was about Abraham Lincoln, and encouraged us to pray for our government, whether we agree with it or not.  How appropriate.  You can never pray too much, nor trust God too much. 
 
To God be all glory,
Lisa of Longbourn

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