Abiding in Joy

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

Archive for the category “Missions”

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

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!

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!

Triumphant Jesus!

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Probably most of you recognize the above picture as the Arc de Triomphe (Arch of Triumph) …….. in Paris, France.  I just returned from a trip to Paris last week.  The Arc of Triumph is located on the famous Avenue des Champs Elysees.  It was built in the early 1800’s and has been used ever since to celebrate famous victories and conquests.  The above photo shows the triumphant march of the French army following WWI.  You have no doubt seen pictures of Hitler, and a few years later, the Allies, marching through the Arc of Triumph, celebrating their victory.  The winner of the famous Tour de France always ends the race by triumphantly passing under the Arch.

When I was in Paris, I was talking with a leading intercessor there in the city.  She told me of a vision the Lord gave her 30 years ago.  She saw a picture of the WWI general passing through the Arc de Triomphe, probably very similar to the one above.  Crowds were shouting and yelling and celebrating.  All of a sudden, the crowd changed.  The shouting was louder, and there was dancing, and joy filled the street in a way she had never seen.  Then she saw it was the resurrected and glorified Jesus coming through the Arc.  The final conquest, the final victory, the final triumph belongs to Jesus Christ!  There was more to the vision, but that picture has stayed with me.

In Paris, just like any other place on this earth, most of the  time we can’t see everything God is doing.  At times, it seems like there may be more setbacks and disappointments than advances for the Kingdom of God.  It appears that what God has spoken in our hearts is happening far too slowly than what we would like.  That has certainly been the case for many workers serving in Paris. And that has been the case for many of us in many parts of the world.  It is at times like these we must focus on what we know will be the final triumph….. when Jesus triumphantly comes to meet His Church.  There will be a victory march that will make all the victory marches in history look superficial.  And whether God has us laboring in the U.S., France, Mexico, Russia, China, Pakistan, Africa, or anywhere else in this world– we know who has the final victory.

We may be going through a season of great fruitfulness, or a season of pruning and perplexity, but we must always keep the picture of Jesus, the Great Conqueror, before us at all times!

(By the way, I had an excellent trip to Paris.  God is preparing something there and I know it is for His great glory in that nation.)

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