Abiding in Joy

Speaking of our life in Christ, and His purposes on earth

Some thoughts on the Syrian Refugees

I have watched over the past several days as people have given their thoughts and opinions about receiving Syrian refugees. And while I have tried to listen and read carefully all that is being said, I am concerned with the xenophobia, fear, and ugliness that some have expressed. I, too, want to weigh in on the topic. I want to address the issue from a strictly Biblical point of view, to those who sincerely call themselves Christians. I also am writing this as someone who goes to Paris about three times a year. Unlike tourists who visit Paris, I spend time with people who live and work in the city. I have connected with some of the immigrant community there. I also want to mention that I have friendships with fellow pastors who are working with Syrian refugees in Lebanon, Israel, Jordan, and Germany. And while I’m sure that there are many who understand much more than I about many of these things, I believe I have more to share than many who are spouting off their opinions, including many politicians.

First, let me say, that I agree that a strong military response is needed to fight ISIS. However, we are foolish to think that a military response should be our sole response. I also would agree with many who believe that our current President has contributed to the mess that we find ourselves in today through his passivity. I cannot understand why he has not given leadership to this unfolding crisis. The results have included a radical Islamic state that is causing chaos all over the Middle East and beyond, over four million Syrians who have been forced to leave their country, the genocide of the Christian community in that part of the world, and a dangerous ideology that is reaching millions of young Muslims around the world. This evil, hate-filled ideology must be answered by something greater and more appealing. One of the problems is that there are millions of young Muslims who are confused, depressed, and hopeless. They are without hope because they live in a world that is passing them by. Often there are no jobs. No future. So when militant Islamists tell them they are living in the last days, and that the last great war is at hand (aimed at killing the infidels–Jews and Christians especially), they are being offered something much more appealing than the sinkhole they are currently struggling against.

We are hearing much about these “radicalized Islamists.” My question is where are the “radicalized Christians”? I am talking about people who are willing to deny themselves to serve the purposes of God–about Christians who are willing to share the good news of Jesus Christ, the words of eternal life, and the hope that can only be found in Him, regardless of the cost. I am talking about loving people with a supernatural agape love, a love in which the world will know we are His disciples. …..Not people who dislike being inconvenienced, who avoid suffering for Christ’s sake, who want to feel safe, who don’t want their rich comfortable lives to be tampered with. In these days, only an ideology like the one Jesus Christ gave to His disciples can defeat radical Islam. Where are these radical Christians?

I am not sure what to do about the millions of Syrian refugees. There are some difficult issues to be addressed. But I do know that closing our hearts to them will not open the door for God to give us His guiding wisdom. Our position must be one of exploring how to meet these needs, not putting out cute little sound bites that sound tough but completely lack the compassion of Jesus. One presidential candidate said this week, “I would not allow a three year old orphan from Syria into our country!” I can’t help but think of the words of Jesus:

Then He will also say to those on His left, “Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry, and you gave Me nothing to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me nothing to drink; I was a stranger, and you did not invite Me in, naked, and you did not clothe Me; sick, and in prison, and you did not visit Me.” Then they themselves also will answer, “Lord, when did we see You hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not take care of You?” Then He will answer them, “Truly, I say to you, to the extent that you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.” Matthew 25:41-45

I advocate that we look at all options addressing the needs of these refugees….all four million of them. Perhaps we need to fine-tune our process to bring refugees into our country. But let’s start with a posture that we want to do something! We just need to figure out the best way. Just because President Obama is for bringing in some of these refugees, does not mean we should be against it! That is plain immature. Canada is opening their doors. And yesterday, French President Hollande, has opened the door for France to bring in 30,000 (that is three times what we are talking about for our country). Should not the United States be taking the lead in coming up with solutions to address the refugee problem? Or, is our problem that we really don’t care for these refugees?

I stated earlier that I have friends working among the Syrian refugees. They all are declaring that there has never been the openness to the Gospel among Muslims as there has been with the Syrians. After all, they are very disillusioned with their religion. God is supernaturally giving them dreams. What does that tell us? God is for them; He cares deeply for every one of them! Many are asking questions. Just this past Friday, the same day as the terror attacks in Paris, I received a letter from a pastor friend in Germany pleading for prayer. They have had 30 Syrian refugees visiting their small church in the past couple of weeks. They also just started an Alpha class for 14 Iraqi immigrants. They are hungry to know about the Gospel! My friend is asking that we please pray that God would open their eyes to the Truth! (By the way, this is a ministry that we provide a financial and legal covering for here in the States).

But it is not just the Syrians who are open to the Lord. Just today, I heard from a brother that I know well who works in the suburbs of Paris, of how so many Muslims from all backgrounds have a growing desire to hear more about Jesus Christ. He tells of one Muslim man who has been asking questions. After the recent attacks, he has decided to follow Jesus. Do we not realize this opportunity to reach peoples who have been previously closed to the gospel? Or, do we even really care?

Many Christians have been praying for decades for the Lord to open the hearts of the most unreached of this world. Remember when many of us prayed for years for the “10/40 Window,” where the world’s most unreached peoples of the world live? The church across America prayed for doors to open that we could enter into their countries to share the gospel. And now God is bringing them by the millions into places like Europe. Yes, there is a window of opportunity today that the Church has perhaps not had since the first century. But it means that we must we respond accordingly. In the Kingdom of God, we have been equipped not with the weapons of the flesh, but with the powerful truth of the gospel, and God’s love, and the compassion of our Lord Jesus. This is how we fight a war that is first and foremost, a spiritual war. This is how the enemy will be defeated.

Please, brothers and sisters, I urge you to put aside the xenophobia, the fear, and the self-protection. Embrace the boldness, the compassion, and the zeal to share the good news with all peoples, including the Syrians. The world (including the unreached peoples everywhere) will know we are His disciples by our agape love.

Mike and Judy

Reflections on the Paris Terrorist Attacks

Many of us have been watching the events unfold in Paris over the past week.  In many ways we are reminded of the feelings and emotions we experienced after 9/11 fourteen years ago.  Though not nearly as many died this past week as did on that fateful day in 2001, the signs that the war on terrorism is taking an even more dangerous turn has the world troubled.  Today I want to share some reflections on what has happened, and what is happening in the world.  For those who might not know, I am in Paris about three times a year connecting with various Christian workers.  So, for me, these events have been especially disturbing.

First, I want to share with those who live in Paris, and throughout France, my heartfelt sense of support to all of you.  France has responded in a very brave, noble, and compassionate way to this crisis.  France is a very diverse nation, yet you have unified as a country in a very remarkable way.  I hope and pray that you as a nation can now move forward to face the challenges ahead.  Most important, I encourage the saints around the world to pray for the Christians in France that they would be given the discernment and the boldness to respond with true wisdom to the challenges and the opportunities that are in front of them.

The free world today needs much wisdom to respond to this growing threat of radical Islamism that is growing stronger and more violent all the time.  As Christians we must pray for the leaders of all these governments.  There are no easy solutions.  Governments are ordained by God to respond to evil and injustice, and to protect the basic rights of mankind.  I pray that the leaders of France, the United States, and other free nations will have great insight to respond correctly.  Looking back, I have doubts about how we responded to 9/11, especially in the aftermath of toppling the corrupt governments of Afghanistan and Iraq.  I’m not sure if we did everything right…..not that I can suggest what could have been done differently.  The issues involved are very complex.  For this reason, we must pray for our leaders.

While I do not pretend to know how best for governments to respond, I do see more clearly how we as Christians should be responding, and how the Church must respond.  If there has ever been a day when the harvest is ripe, and there are endless opportunities to share the message of hope and love that is only found in our Lord Jesus Christ, it is today.  Our focus must be on what we as Christians can and should be doing.  The reality most of us don’t want to hear is that governments, with all their human wisdom, are limited in what they can do.  At best, their efforts will be too little, and they will never be able to address the root causes of our world’s problems.  While I concur that the role of government is to confront evil and injustice, I realize that they will never bring about the results we are really looking for.  Too often our focus as Christians is on what “they” should be doing, rather than what “we” must be doing.  Are we are deceiving ourselves?

Let me explain.  I often find myself reading about the lives of those drawn into such evil terrorism.  I ask God to help me to see their stories from His perspective.  For example, let’s talk about the life of Amedy Coulibaly.  He is one of the terrorists involved in last week’s tragedy in Paris, being killed after he had killed four innocent Jews in a local kosher grocery story.  He was 32 years old.  He had his first encounter with the police at age 15.  He was a smart kid but always drawn into the wrong crowd.  People who knew him say he was always looking for friends.  He had one friend, but this friend was killed when Amedy was still a teen. He later remarked he never had any true friends after that. While serving time in prison, he looked for a mentor or father figure, but could only find a radical Islamist.  That didn’t last long either.  Eight years ago, after being released from prison, he struck up a romance with a young woman, now known to the world as the female accomplice to last week’s attacks.  They were not practicing Muslims at that time.  They both were looking for something but couldn’t seem to find what they were looking for.  They began to drift toward Islam.  It was about this time that Amedy finally found the mentor and spiritual guide he was looking for.  The only problem was that this man was a recruiter for Al Qaeda.  Sadly, such recruiters look for young men and women who are disillusioned with life and are looking for something meaningful to give some purpose to their existence.  The couple later traveled to Mecca for a spiritual pilgrimage.  Those who knew the couple said that while she seemed to be touched while there, he was not.  We know, of course, that only Jesus can satisfy their spiritual longing.  Some reports suggest that Amedy wrestled with suicidal thoughts toward the end of his life.  Obviously, I have left out parts of this story, and certainly I am not blaming his horrible actions on others.  But I do believe his story, like those of most troubled youths, should serve as exhortation to Christians to reach out to the lost and hopeless of this world.  There are millions of young adults around the world looking for mentors, purpose in life, and spiritual reality!  Are we who are Christians too consumed with our own lives that we do not see what is happening around us?

We have been commissioned with the gospel of love.  May we be shaken out of our complacency and begin looking for ways to share the love of God with others.  Just last year, while in Paris in the home of Mouloud and Gerda, our dear friends, Mouloud and I had the opportunity to share for over an hour with a young troubled man.  Yes, he was Arab. Yes, he was Muslim.  Yes, his life was falling apart.  And, yes, he was very interested as we shared the gospel with him.  He did not make a commitment to follow Christ at that point, but he knows now about how Jesus can give him eternal life and freedom from sin. The sad reality is that there are tens of thousands of such young men just in the Paris area.  May the gospel be proclaimed to the lost of this world!

We have been entrusted with the Truth.  It is only the Truth that can set a person free.  We have been entrusted with the love of God that has filled our hearts.  The weapons needed in this “war against terrorism” are the Gospel, the love of Christ, and the name of Jesus in which we can do battle in prayer.  I am already hearing Christians speak or write things that sound more like hate and fear as a response to the increasing threats of radical Islam.  Rather, we must embrace love (God’s love) and boldness to proclaim the Gospel.  We are not to fear.  Our Lord told His followers to love their enemies.  He knew that love is stronger than hate.  We are told to “never pay back evil with evil to anyone” (Romans 12:17).  In this age of growing turmoil, we must see the growing opportunities for the Kingdom of God.  As followers of Jesus, we must not give in to fear, hate, or even complacency.

Finally, I want to encourage everyone to consider giving to the laborers working in Paris.  If you don’t know of any you can get behind with prayer and financial support,  I know of many strong Christian workers in the Paris area who are limited in what they can do because of a lack of finances.  We must pray diligently for these workers in this season of opportunity!

There is one man in Paris who is from North Africa whom I’ve known for some time.  He left Islam to become a follower of Jesus.  He now serves the Lord Jesus, and has a gift of evangelism.  He has a burden for young Muslim men.  He and his family have already bought airline tickets to spend almost two months with us in Frisco this summer.  May the Lord show us how to equip and encourage him, and others as well, to be bold in their witness for the Lord Jesus Christ!

How would things change if all believers were to tithe?

Last week I began a series of posts on the subject of giving.  It is surprising how quick some Christians throw up excuses for not giving, especially for not tithing.  One excuse I occasionally hear is that the Church really doesn’t need everyone to tithe. ” God may lead some people to tithe (usually those richer than ourselves), but it is really not necessary for all of us.  Churches are doing fine without more money.  And a lot of churches are probably not spending it properly anyway.”  Those making such excuses are missing the purpose of giving.  It is not that God needs our money. It is not for His benefit that we give.  The benefit goes to us!  Giving, especially tithing, teaches us trust in God.  It teaches us that God is really the owner of all that we have, and that we are His stewards.  It helps to loosen the grip that our money and possessions have on us. The intangible benefits are difficult to describe to those who have not embraced a life of giving.  But even if the Church doesn’t need more money, and even if we assume that not all of it is being spent as we would like to see it spent, we should still give back to the Lord.  And, as the Scriptures tell us so clearly, God promises to take care of all our needs and to bless us abundantly as a result.

But let’s talk about how tithing does help the Church.  I recently read an article in Relevant Magazine that asked this question:  What would happen if all believers were to tithe?  This is not a totally unrealistic possibility if we really believe all that His Word says about His blessing being upon those who are faithful in giving.  According to the study reported in this article, it is estimated that if all believers tithed, then there would be an additional $165 billion  each year for churches to use and distribute for the sake of the Kingdom.  The results would be amazing!

According to this study……

      >$25 billion could relieve global hunger, starvation, and death from preventable diseases in five years.

      >$12 billion could eliminate illiteracy in five years.

      >$15 billion could solve the world’s water and sanitation issues, specifically at places where 1 billion people live on less than $1 a day.

      >$1 billion could fully fund all overseas mission work.

       >$100 to $110 billion would still be left over for additional ministry expansion!

These figures do not include the offerings beyond the tithe (because many tithers begin to give more after seeing how God showers grace on them).  These figures do not calculate how God’s blessing would cause many to prosper, and therefore, have more to give.   And these figures also don’t include all the new Christians coming into the Kingdom as a result of the Church doing what it is supposed to be doing!

It has always been God’s plan that His people would be the ones who would bless the world.  Sadly, we have left this responsibility to the governments and humanitarian organizations of the world.  Usually this has not been successful.  In some cases, it has been disastrous.   Corruption and selfishness usually contaminate the best of intentions of governments and secular organizations.  What if the Church were to begin being faithful in the area of giving?  God, who promises to multiply what we give, would be glorified around the world!  

Where does it start?  It starts with ordinary people, most of whom don’t have a lot to give, beginning to step out in faith.  They believe God’s Word is true for all of us….all of the time!

The Joy of Giving

I am in the process of writing a Bible study guide called, “The Joy of Giving”. For the next several weeks, I plan to post some thoughts and conclusions from this study on the topic of Biblical giving. I realize that giving is not taught that much in churches today, and I also know that it is increasingly becoming a taboo topic. We all have heard people talk with disgust about a certain church or pastor talking too much about money. Some say that is one of the biggest problems of the Church. There certainly has been much abuse in the area of solicitation of money. However, I could argue that not talking about giving (that comes from the right heart) is one of the biggest problems facing the Church today.

We all know that many churches are financially struggling today due to a decrease in giving. It has also been reported that the Church in America is giving about half of what it did 20 years ago to foreign missions. I know that we have just gone through the Great Recession. But there was greater faithfulness to giving on the part of the Church during the Great Depression than there is today. The reality is that a careful study of giving in the Scriptures shows that the overall spiritual health of God’s people is directly tied to their financial generosity. That is why we can no longer ignore teaching on the topic.

God promises to bless those who give. We live in a world where “taking” is much more popular that “giving”. People flock to books and seminars that tell us how we can get more out of this world. Most of the developed countries of the world today are embracing an “entitlement” society where everyone is trying to get as much as they can out of their governments. There is a spirit of “taking” today that will eventually destroy us. This same spirit is creeping into the Church. Churches find themselves competing against one another trying to present the best package of programs to draw people. People are more concerned about what they “get” from church than they are about what they are giving. Jesus said it clearly, “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35).

Note just a few things that happen as a result of giving:

The windows of heaven will open and be poured out upon us with blessings that overflow. Malachi 3:10

Our barns will be filled with plenty. Proverbs 3:11

Blessing will pour into our laps. Luke 6:38

Grace will abound to us, so that we will have abundance for every good deed.
II Corinthians 9:8

Our seed for sowing will be multiplied. II Corinthians 9:10

The harvest of our righteousness will be increased. II Corinthians 9:10

We will be enriched in everything. II Corinthians 9:11

What Christian would not want to be blessed in such ways as just described? And these are just a few phrases mentioned. A more careful study of these and other passages reveal even more clearly that we have been called to be a people with God’s heart to give in every situation, to be generous with our time, with our resources, and with our money. How can we not speak up for this very important truth in God’s Word? Not doing so will only continue to allow the Church to drift away from the power and fruitfulness that God intends.

One reason giving is so important is that it is at the heart of the Gospel message. God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son. The disciples of Jesus were called and taught how to give, to serve, and to bless others. I believe that financial giving, especially in sacrificial ways, often becomes a gateway for God to work deeper inside of us and to transform us to be the selfless servants He desires to use in the world today.

I encourage everyone to begin to study afresh what His Word has to say about the benefits of Biblical giving. It doesn’t take experienced Bible scholars to understand these passages. God has made them very clear. And I encourage pastors and teachers not to shrink back from speaking boldly about these truths!

Giving God the Glory!

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Judy took this photo of me this morning from our back deck as I came in from a early morning Nordic ski.

As probably most of those reading this post know, we live in Colorado, up high in the beautiful Rocky Mountains.  For the past 18 months or so, we have been in a severe drought.  Last year’s snowfall was way under our average and by the end of the summer, most of the state’s reservoirs were very low.  We also experienced some of the most devastating fires in our state’s history last summer.  This winter started off much like last winter, with snowfall totals ranging from 30-50% of what is normal.  Thankfully, in Colorado, that is still enough for some good skiing!

Our church, Immanuel Fellowship, takes the second week of March every year to pray and fast.  This year one of our focus points was the drought. (I should probably add that I am sure Christians all over our state have prayed as well.)  The next several weeks saw more than average snow but not enough to catch up.  It was very discouraging that at the end of March it was reported that the mountains needed seven more feet of snow this spring I order to fill the reservoirs when the snow melts.

However…….according to the Summit Daily, who gives snow statistics on a daily basis, we have now received 91 inches since the beginning of the month!  This is April 23 today.  It would be easy to say that this is a coincidence, but all the expert doomsayers have been predicting that we could never receive enough snow to break this winter’s existing weather pattern.  I want to go on record as giving God the glory for what has happened, and to attribute all our snow to His power and His ability to turn the desert to pools of water (or lots of snow)!  He is faithful!   And He answers the prayers of His people!

I want to also rejoice that the extended forecast starting tomorrow is one of abundant sunshine and warm temperatures!

Nailed to the Cross!

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This weekend we celebrate the greatest event in human history.  That great event is the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.  He came to earth as a man, lived a sinless life, taught extensively on the Kingdom of God, and then voluntarily went to the Cross to give Himself for the sins of mankind.  Do we really understand the magnitude of this?  What Jesus did at the Cross opens the door for each of us to have eternal life.  That is why this is without doubt the greatest event in human history.

It is sin that keeps us from knowing God and from experiencing eternal life.  Paul gives us the picture of a certificate of debt (Colossians 2:13-14) that has been issued to each of us.  It is a debt of sin that is overwhelmingly condemning us, a debt which we can do nothing about!  It is similar to the servant who owed his Master ten thousand talents and had no way to repay (Matthew 18:23-35, specifically verses 23-25).  Just to put this into perspective, ten thousand talents would be about $7,500,000,000 in today’s currency.  How could a servant owe that much money?  And how could he possibly even begin to repay?  That gives us some idea of what it means to have an impossible certificate of debt that has eternal consequences hanging over our head.

Jesus took the sin of the world on Himself.  He took that certificate of debt for each individual person, that was so hostile to us, and He destroyed it by nailing it to that Cross….. “having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross.” (Colossians 2:14)   Or another way to put it, He paid the debt for us!  This is God’s great gift to us, available to everyone of us who believe, no matter what our nationality, race, economic or social status, or anything else.  None of us deserve such a Gift, so it has nothing to do with how good or how bad we have been.  It is grace that has provided such a Gift.

We live in a world that has been terribly corrupted.  Corrie ten Boom, who suffered greatly in a Nazi concentration death camp for following Christ, once said,

“If you look at the world, you’ll be distressed.

If you look within, you’ll be depressed.

But if you look at Christ, you’ll be at rest.”

We live in a world that has been terribly corrupted.  I just returned from Mexico a few days ago where a friend (I have stayed in his home) was kidnaped, robbed, and brutally killed.  While I was in Mexico last week, the family was notified that this had happened to their son/brother.  We were in shock over his untimely brutal death, but also over how fellow humans could do such things.  In this case, however, we could rejoice in the fact that this brother’s certificate of debt had been nailed to the Cross, and that he had received this Gift of God by faith.

What we celebrate this weekend is beautiful, powerful, and life changing.  May we all begin to comprehend at a much greater level the magnitude of Jesus’ death and resurrection.  As we do, the result will be joy; and we will have a renewed passion to spread the Good News of what He has done for us to the whole world, beginning with those around us!

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Enter Into the Joy of Your Master

Two parables of Jesus that have been on my mind the last few years are the Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25) and the Parable of the Minas (Luke 19).  Though the parables are different in a number of ways, the primary message is the same in both: We must be faithful with what God has given us, and by doing so, we will therefore assume more responsibility in His Kingdom.

These parables are rather sobering in that they speak not only of the rewards of being faithful, but we see the severe consequences of not being faithful with what God has given us.  In fact, those consequences are incurred by doing absolutely!  Sadly, “doing nothing” may represent the state of most who call themselves Christians.  We have been given so much.  We have been given the glorious gospel. We have been placed “in Christ” and therefore have been blessed with “every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 1:3).  We have been given a call and set of gifts that no one else on earth possesses.  He has equipped us to do His work through the Holy Spirit, the power of prayer, and the fact that Jesus Christ is now seated at the right hand of the Father interceding for us (Hebrews 7:24-25).  We have been given finances, health, time, and gifts that He desires for us to use for His purposes.  And yet we often continue to serve our own interests and personal agenda.  Too many do nothing or just the minimum when comes to the purposes of the Kingdom of God.

There are many truths found in these parables.  Today, I want to draw our attention to what the Master says to the faithful servants in the Parable of the Talents.  Because they were faithful and multiplied what had been given them, the Master says, “Well, done, good and faithful servant.  You were faithful with a few things.  I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.”  In a world starving for true joy, Jesus tells us that being faithful is the road we must walk to obtain true joy.  The enemy has lied to us by suggesting that serving faithfully and sacrificially will rob us of life.  It falls in that same category of deception that says we need to live for ourselves, that we must look after “me” first, and that we must spend excessive time on ourselves.  We see books on 100 things to do before you die or 100 places to go.  In short, in our quest to find happiness and contentment, we miss what Jesus had to say about true joy.  When we are faithful with what God has given us, we will enter into His joy!  Yes, being faithful will mean sacrifice.  It will mean hard work.  It will mean not spending time on ourselves. But the result?   Joy…..both here on this earth, and in the age to come!

Prayer Triggers Divine “Chains of Events”

 In the missions circles that I hang out with, there is much talk about great movements of revival among people groups, cities, or geographical areas.  Often overlooked, however, is the role of prayer.  In our Western culture, it is hard to understand things we don’t see—like the effect of prayer on the people and events that we pray for.  Only heaven knows the extent of how prayer really is the driving force behind so much true spiritual fruit.

I am coming to see more and more how prayer triggers chains of events that accomplish God’s purposes here on this earth.  So often the bigger plans of the Lord are not a single event, but rather a series of events.  The life of Joseph is an excellent example.  When he was just a youth God gave him dreams of rulership.  But it took a chain of events, and many years, before God’s plan for him was established.  And if we look at his life in those in-between years, we see anything else but him ruling.  We see him as a slave, being falsely accused, or even in jail. But God brought about His purpose for Joseph in His time.  All of the things that happen to Joseph in those 13 years of adversity were a chain of events that brought about the fulfillment of God’s plan.  So much of what God does, He does through an intricate and divinely orchestrated chain of events. 

This chain of events might be illustrated by a line of dominoes falling, each triggering the next one to fall.  Or, perhaps it might be described as an avalanche, or a rock slide.  A rock slide usually starts off rather slow, with one or two rocks tumbling down.  But those rocks hit other rocks, and they hit others.  Before long there is a rock slide that is capable of knocking down trees, buildings, and even towns!  It is out of control!  Prayer is what triggers God to move in mighty ways, and it is prayer that sustains movements, which are divine “chains of events.”

We all marvel at the chain of events that took place in the early church, recorded in the book of Acts.  These events shook the status quo and were reported to have “upset the world” (Acts 17:6).  But all this got started with 120 saints praying for many days in an upper room!   A quick look at revivals and awakenings throughout church history would reveal that usually there was a rather small group of prayer warriors that consistently prayed and interceded.

In 1990 I was a part of a church planting team that moved to Mexico City.  At that time, church analysts estimated that under 1% of the population were evangelical Christians.  Yet, by the year 2000, they were saying that probably 15-18% were born again Christians.  That is amazing growth for just ten years!  What most people don’t know is that there was a church in Joppa, Maryland (called Chesapeake Covenant Church at that time) that was seriously praying for Mexico City.  They did so for probably 3-4 years.  We were bombarded with letters, passages, impressions from the Lord from some of these prayer warriors.  They were not just praying for our particular church plant, but also for all of Mexico City.  Only heaven knows the impact of those prayers and intercessions.  Certainly the hundreds of thousands (probably over a million) people who came to know the Lord in those ten years don’t know.  Am I saying that all that happened in Mexico City was a direct result of these prayer warriors?  I don’t know.  There may have been other groups of saints doing the same.  But I know this church had a major part in triggering a chain of events that resulted in revival taking place. 

Just imagine one day when we all gathered around the throne, the appreciation you will feel toward those who prayed YOU  into the Kingdom.  What a day of rejoicing that will be!

I just arrived back home from another trip to Paris.  I have been making about three trips there a year to meet with some younger workers and leaders, encouraging them in planting new churches, making disciples, and Biblical church life. We are amazed to see God raising up a generation of young leaders with a fresh vision from God for His Church in their city. This past trip I was astonished by the rapid chain of events that are happening.  This feels very much like the beginning of something much bigger than what I had ever anticipated.  On this trip I began to think back on the chain of events that led to this time. They started shortly after a number of people here at our church in Frisco spent a month in Paris in 2006 and prayed 24 hours day and night for God to move in that city.  Is that a coincidence?  I think not.  And I might add there may well have been others praying in a similar way.  But I do know that our collective prayer triggers chains of events that bring about His purposes on earth.

God delights to use the “small” and the seemingly “insignificant” to accomplish His plans……sometimes in a distant country.  And most often His plans are accomplished more by prayer than lots of activity.  Prayer prepares the ground, the culture, and the hearts of people for God’s work to be done and received.  Prayer is something that all of us can do.  We must put aside our Western thinking that tries to evaluate what we do (such as prayer) by what we can see.  Only heaven knows the impact we are making through prayer!

May God raise up bands of prayer warriors who will dislodge big rocks to get the chain of events moving that will impact peoples and cities around the world!

“I Was a Stranger”

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This is the third post I have written on the subject of immigrants.  I want to encourage us all to take time and see what the Scriptures have to say.  Sadly, many Christians have little or no Biblical understanding on this topic.

The Evangelical Immigration Table is calling for churches and Christians all across the country to participate in the “I Was a Stranger” campaign over the next several months.  The Evangelical Immigration Table was established this past June by a number of national Christian leaders who believe that the Church needs to actively take up the Biblical mandate to care for and be an advocate for the immigrant populations in our country.

The Scriptures are numerous.  For example, just in the Old Testament, the Hebrew word (“Ger”) for immigrant is mentioned 92 times. This word is often translated as alien , foreigner, or stranger.  It literally means the foreigner that is living in your midst, that is, as an immigrant.  God’s people are instructed over and over to care for and love the immigrant, and to be sure that justice is not perverted for them.  God puts them alongside the widow and the orphan as those for whom He has a special heart……..because they are so often taken advantage of, or even mistreated.

The New Testament, as well, has plenty to say about the immigrant.  The Greek word for hospitality is “philoxenia” which literally means “love of strangers”.  We think of hospitality as having our family and friends over to our home.  Biblically, though, hospitality means reaching out to those not like us, especially the strangers in our midst.  Go back now and read some of those passages that speak of practicing hospitality (Romans 12:13, I Timothy 5:10, Hebrews 13:2).  They take on a different meaning, don’t they?

There is also the parable that Jesus gave His disciples in which Jesus describes the fruit of true believers, and contrasts them to those who nominally follow Him.  To the sheep, He tells them that when He was hungry, they fed Him.  When He was thirsty, they gave Him something to drink.  And when He was a stranger (literally, an immigrant), they welcomed Him (see Matthew 25:35).  Later, Jesus continues saying, “Truly, I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me”.  I wonder how many Christians have ever noticed that Jesus is talking about the stranger here.  This is, of course, the passage from which the “I Was a Stranger” campaign gets its name.

“I Was a Stranger” is a campaign encouraging us to take 40 days to read what God’s Word says about the stranger, and to pray that we would have a Biblical response to them.  You can download a bookmark that lists a different passage to be read each of the 40 days. You really need to visit the website: www.EvangelicalImmigrationTable.com   What is really amazing is how many evangelical leaders have signed on to this.  Almost every major evangelical denomination has joined in, as well as most of our country’s seminaries and Bible schools.  Pastors of many influential churches have given their support.  Many Christian organizations, spanning the political spectrum from Focus on the Family to the Sojourners, are participating.  I have not seen such unity over a specific issue since the Church took up the pro-life banner back in the early 80’s!  The website lists some of those who have signed.

This is a very important issue for today.  John Perkins, who was a Christian civil rights leader, has recently said that this issue may be more important for the Church than even the civil rights movement.  Immigration is certainly a hot topic today.  I want to encourage Christians everywhere not to rely on political parties or talk show hosts to form your ideas.  Go to God’s Word!  It has plenty to say, and quite powerfully. And the passages we are encouraged to read through “I Was a Stranger” is a great place to start.

What an Opportunity for the Church!

(Before reading this, I strongly urge you to read the last post.  This is really a Part 2.  There should be at least one more post on this topic in the next week.)

In my last post I talked about the rapidly changing demographics that are occurring here in America.  The immigrant population is booming, forcing business, political parties, education, the media, the arts, and yes, the Church, to adjust accordingly.  For the Church, this should not be viewed as some awful thing we must endure, but rather as an opportunity!

We should probably also note that the immigrant influx is not unique to the United States and Canada.  Europe, Asia, Africa, the Middle East, and Latin America are all undergoing significant demographic shifts as a result of immigration.   In 2010, at the Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization, held in Cape Town, South Africa, one of the dominant themes to emerge was what is now being called “Peoples on the Move.”  The statistics of how the peoples of the world are moving around is amazing.  As might be expected, these changes bring considerable social unrest, especially as the second generation immigrants find themselves caught between the old culture (in which they are somewhat unfamiliar) and a new culture in which they are not fully accepted.  They are often unfairly categorized as ungrateful, lazy, or stubborn.  But research is also showing that these immigrant groups are overall the most open to the Gospel.  They are feeling displaced and lack the sense of community that often they have.  There is also an openness to explore aspects of their new culture.  What an opening for the Church!

Getting back to America, research has suggested that well over 90% of those living here in the U.S. from another country never even enter into a home of a native-born American.  We can always find excuses such as the awkwardness of the situation or the language/cultural barriers.  The bottom line, though, is that such statistics are a shame on Christians.  Remember what happened in John 4 after Jesus had that conversation with that Samaritan woman?  You know, she was the woman that shared with the entire town about the One who told her everything she had ever done.  His disciples were so concerned about the food that they did not even see this Samaritan woman.  Jesus told His disciples to “lift up your eyes and look on the fields, that they are white for harvest.”  (John 4:35).  Many believed because of this woman, yet the disciples did not have their spiritual eyes opened.

While some are bemoaning the changes that are happening in the world today, especially as it pertains to changing demographics, the Church should recognize that it is God’s love for the peoples of the world that has allowed and even orchestrated this great movement of peoples around the world!  He desires to place more and more unreached peoples within the reach of discerning and Kingdom-minded disciples.  May we be part of that company of disciples!  May we lift up our eyes and look on the fields to see how they are white for harvest!

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