Henry Kissinger Offers Insights for Ministry Leaders

Standard

Henry Kissinger’s latest book was not written for gospel ministers, but the 92-year-old diplomat has insight into the contemporary world from which ministry leaders can benefit. In World Order, Kissinger surveys efforts to create international order, beginning with the Peace of Westphalia in the Seventeenth Century to our most current efforts in 2014. As such, it is part history, replete with fascinating anecdotes, and part prescription, as he identifies key questions and issues facing us as we seek world order in our day. For example, I had never before read that Czar Alexander ended the Napoleonic Wars by marching to Paris at the head of his armies. The Czar celebrated victory with 160,000 Russian troops on the plains outside Paris, a demonstration that caused disquiet, even among his allies. Interestingly, the Czar wanted “an order of things based on the exalted truths of the eternal religion of our Savior.”

Kissinger writes about Iran, China, Russia, India, Islamism in the Middle East, including the role the United States plays in each region. All of this is fascinating and beneficial as we seek to understand our world. But it’s his statements on values and truth that I find most helpful, and disconcerting.

For example, he writes that we live in a time in which “values” are “shaped by consensus,” and that our quest for consensus is done by “a sharing of emotions” more than an exchange of ideas. Which of us has not marveled, or wept, at the rapidity with which America’s values have changed on key moral issues? Currently, the hottest issue is same-sex marriage, which enjoyed little support 20 years ago and now has majority support in the U. S. More Americans favor same-sex marriage than have a positive view of evangelical Christianity!

As we consider Kissinger’s statement about our values being shaped by consensus, consider the findings (or assertions) of Mark A. Smith, Political Science and Comparative Religion and Communications professor at the University of Washington in Seattle. In his soon-to-be released book, Secular Faith: How Culture has Trumped Religion in American Politics, Smith argues that regardless of the religion Americans hold, our viewpoints regarding high-profile issues are shaped more by the culture than by our religion. Smith says that the cultural influence of the larger society through institutions like the media, schools, neighborhoods and workplace shape our views, and that religious leaders often “update their group’s official positions to maintain the support of the rank-and-file.” To support his assertion Smith mentions several issues in which religions “changed” their position. Views on issues like criminalizing blasphemy, outlawing alcohol production, banning commerce on Sundays, segregation of races, interracial marriage, as well as teachings on divorce, women’s rights, and homosexuality have changed greatly over the course of time. In essence, Smith corroborates Kissinger’s statement that the values America holds are shaped by consensus, and Smith says that we arrive at consensus by means other than our religion, that, indeed, religions in America change their teachings to line-up with the consensus of opinion. Sometimes that is good. Churches have been on the wrong side of some issues in the past. But often this is bad, as churches abandon clear biblical teaching in favor of cultural consensus.

In addition to our values being shaped by consensus, Kissinger writes that “the concept of truth is being relativized and individualized – losing its universal character.” For example, in 2012 the election campaigns had files on tens of millions of voters. Using research from social networks, open public files, and medical records, the campaigns could profile the voters and more precisely target them individually with the “truth” that would appeal to them. To use another example, two different people asking the same question on a search engine do not necessarily receive the same answer to their question. The answer you receive is individualized, taking into account where you live and other things known about you. A recent search I made, looking for a new dress for my wife, has filled my subsequent internet searches with advertisements for new dresses because my search engine knows I might be shopping for a new dress (dumb of me, I know!).

For decades preachers have spoken about truth becoming relative, but now the technology we use every day is reinforcing this. Imagine a coming day in which a question posed through Google nets the answer that those who control Google want you to have. Now, imagine that that day has already arrived, because it has.

A final insight by Kissinger concerns conflict between peoples. In essence, he says that conflict doesn’t only arise because societies and peoples don’t understand each other. Rather, conflict often arises because we understand each other only too well, and we profoundly disagree on values, ideals and strategic objectives. American politics has not softened with more media and data-driven election strategies; if anything the extreme viewpoints have a larger audience. Violent agitation can erupt in the Muslim world because of a fringe cartoon in a Danish newspaper. A videotaped beheading in Syria can harden the resolve of warring parties as it is broadcasted to the whole world.

We have seen in the Northwest how legal proceedings against a baker or a florist can set peoples and groups against one another. Teaching truth and sharing the love of Christ can be a tricky when battle lines are drawn and weapons revealed. I say “tricky” because we don’t merely want to “preach to the choir.” We are seeking to educate and persuade, and we often find that difficult even when it concerns our own children, let alone the typical unbeliever in the Northwest.

I could go on with this, but I’ll conclude with three responses that I believe the church must make. First, we must seek ways to love, love and love people in our community, and love them some more. Personal relationships in which love is abundant is the only way to win the hearts and minds of those whose values conflict with biblical truth. Christians and churches must be experienced by unbelievers as those who deeply love people and the community. This is how the Early Church reached the majority in Roman Empire within 300 years. Genuine love has always been essential to evangelism. It is not easy. The world does not believe us when we say that we “hate the sin and love the sinner.” But don’t worry about the “the world” so much as the “individuals” in your world. We love people individually, not in groups.

Second, we must pray, pray and pray. I’ve written before about the need for more prayer for the lost and the persecuted in our churches. Our worship services must be saturated in deep prayer, prayer for people, prayer for souls, prayer for God’s blessing on our cities, prayer to “the Lord of the harvest” that He will “send out workers into His harvest” (Matthew 9:38). In small groups we must be praying for people by name who need Jesus as Savior and Lord. Spiritual transformation is the work of the Holy Spirit. Our witness is vital, but we need God to move in people’s hearts. Oh how desperately we need that!

Third, we must teach our children and our people that the Bible is truth. The Bible is not a “source for sermons” or “positive thoughts.” The Bible is truth. We must read it. Our people must read it, believe it, and submit to the teachings of Scripture. The idea that churches and Christian leaders change their teachings to conform to the consensus of opinion is shocking, but we see it all the time. The renewal of the human mind requires consistent feeding on Scripture, Scripture which is believed and upon which we meditate.

One third of people in the Northwest (Washington, Oregon and Idaho) say they have no religion. They are not Christian, Buddhist, Hindu or Muslim. Not that they don’t have religious beliefs, but in their thinking they don’t adhere to a “religion.” This means they are up for grabs! Can you imagine how fearful and hopeless you would be if you didn’t know Jesus!? How will these people face tragedy and death without Jesus? This world is not enough. We must have more. They must have more. Don’t give up on them. And remember, only hours before the Cross, Jesus said, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). Kissinger may be right in his view of things in today’s world, but it will always be a good day to serve the Lord!

What People Want from their Church

Standard

There has been much written regarding what people look for in a church. The topic itself can lead to “consumer language,” focusing on personal preferences, when describing the kind of church people want. But many years ago a man seeking a church home told me something I have never forgotten. He said, “I want a church where I can bring lost friends and family with the confidence that they will be treated well, hear the gospel consistently and clearly, with love, and I won’t have to live in fear that something might happen that will make us want to crawl under a pew.”

Immediately you know what he means. He wanted a church family that strengthened his witness. A church family that gave him confidence that he wouldn’t be embarrassed or let down when he invited others to visit. He was looking for ministry partners, who, when taken together, are the body of Christ.

I don’t know if you’ve thought of it this way, but being part of healthy church strengthens your personal witness and ministry. And if you’re a pastor you want your congregation to have the confidence that they can bring a friend on any given Sunday, knowing that the church will be ready for their guest.

With this in mind, what can we do to help our church members have such confidence? Let me suggest a few things.

First, the pastor and church should prepare for and expect guests every week. You only have one chance to make a good first impression, and every week you should anticipate meeting somebody new in your church or Bible class. In my first pastorate we began with 10 people. I was in seminary and a fellow student asked me if it was hard getting motivated to preach to so few. My answer was an honest and emphatic, “No!” and this for two reasons. One, those 10 had a right to hear the best message from God’s Word I was capable of preparing and delivering. Two, I was knocking on doors and inviting folks to church, knowing that when they came I had one chance to make a good first impression. If the pastor and church family are praying for the lost people in the community, loving them, and inviting them, you will have guests. And when you have them, you want to minister to them as best you can.

Second, expect every week to have some attend that is lost, hurting, and hopeless. When a lost person comes to church it may be the result of years of a mother’s prayer. It may be because their friend or spouse “finally” got them there. In other words, those bringing guests are depending upon us, pastors and song leaders, deacons and preschool teachers, greeters and ushers, to be their teammate in ministering to their loved one. This may be your one best opportunity. Don’t let them down. The church is the body of Christ and every member has a job to do. I have seen the attitude or behavior of one person keep someone from church. It shouldn’t be this way, but lost people don’t need much reason to stay away from church. We need to continually educate the church that the way we treat people matters. The way we greet people and befriend people, matters. You don’t want a fellow church member “crawling under a pew” because you were unprepared to minister to their guest.

Third, when we bring a guest to church, we want them to experience “church.” That is, we want them to hear God’s Word read and proclaimed. We want them to hear God’s people sing with joy. We want them to see God’s people pray with conviction and faith. Joy and gratitude should flow abundantly when God’s people gather to worship Him. Don’t take for granted that unchurched people will be moved by this because they can’t experience true Christian fellowship and worship anywhere else.

That statement made to me over 20 years ago helped me greatly as a pastor. I served one more church as pastor after that, and I’ve done nine interim pastorates. I promised each congregation that I would do all I could to never embarrass them. I would work as best I could to be ready with God’s message each Sunday so that they could bring friends and family on any given week, confident that their pastor would be ready. I wanted our church to know that I would be a faithful partner in helping them reach their family and friends for Jesus Christ. But I also knew they were depending on others in our church to do their part in helping them reach their loved one for Christ.

How sad if our church members had to apologize to their guests for how their church disappointed them. Or, to say it another way, how sad if our church members encouraged their friends to attend a different church because they lacked confidence that they would experience God’s love in their own church.

“There are different activities, but the same God is active in everyone and everything. A manifestation of the Spirit is given to each person to produce what is beneficial” (1 Corinthians 12:6-7).

Baptism – A Dangerous Opportunity

Standard

Andrew White is pastor of St. George’s Church in Baghdad, Iraq. The church has been under siege for over a decade. Church members are killed frequently, 93 in one year alone. The threat is particularly great for those who convert to Christianity from Islam and are baptized. In one year White baptized 13 adults, each secretly, 11 of whom were dead within a week. He always warns them of the danger of baptism, but they want to follow Jesus and eagerly share their newfound joy. White says, “Christians in Iraq always practice their faith.… Our people refuse to deny the practice of their faith” (Faith Under Fire).

Baptism is a very big deal. It marks the beginning of the public life of a Christian. It is the act by which we affirm the Gospel of Jesus Christ and identify with His people. Clearly, the world sees baptism as a defining event, an act that threatens family and community cohesion. Baptism is viewed as dangerous.

It might surprise you that many unbelievers in the Northwest regard baptism as a “big deal.” One Northwest pastor said that 95 percent of the people who come to him needing Jesus address the issue by saying, “I want to talk about being baptized.” They do so because water baptism is the defining act whereby a person commits publically to the lordship of Jesus Christ.

Is baptism a big deal for you and your church? I want to suggest several things you can do to make baptism the celebration and evangelistic opportunity that it should be for your church.

First, meet with every baptismal candidate and help them make a list of people they want to invite to their baptism. Obviously you want to explain to them the meaning of their baptism, but don’t neglect to help them identify the people they know who need Jesus.

Second, provide them with “baptism invitation cards” that they can send to friends and family (the church could even mail the cards for them). Your church can order invitation cards from the NWBC at no charge. Your Cooperative Program (CP) contributions have already purchased your invitation cards.

Third, share the gospel in each baptism service and share the testimonies of each person baptized. You might want to videotape the testimonies in advance. But allowing the church and guests to hear the gospel personalized through testimony is powerful.

Fourth, the worship service should celebrate Jesus and what He has done for us. Choose gospel music appropriate to such a service. And remember, unchurched guests do not know our new songs. This is a good time to dust-off some classic gospel hymns with which they might be better acquainted.

Fifth, pray personally for each baptism candidate by name. They will remember this day for the rest of their lives, as will their families. The service should be very personal and gospel centered.

Sixth, present each candidate with a baptism certificate and with a quality Bible. You can order baptism certificates through the NWBC without charge as your CP giving has already purchased these. You can also order new believers books for each person, also purchased through your CP.

A baptism service can be a great evangelistic opportunity for your church. It should be a celebration start to finish. But also remember that baptism is serious. It is dangerous. It is an act pregnant with deep and profound meaning, something for which we would give our very lives. Many have and are giving their lives for Jesus. Pray for the persecuted. Rescue the perishing. Jesus is merciful. Jesus will save.

Googling Yourself

Standard

Many of you have done it. You have run a Google search of your name to see what personal information is available to the billions who have access to the worldwide web. It can be fun, and a little frightening, to see what others might learn about you. When I Googled myself I waded through a number of like-named people, most prominently a man who was wrongly convicted of murder and another who is a tattoo artist. Surveys indicate that 34 percent of American babies have sonograms posted on the web, and 92 percent have an internet presence by age two. Two-year-olds are developing an internet profile that will remain for the rest of their lives!

The truth is, long before Google there was a place where you could see yourself in stark detail. Have you not read, “There was a man who had two sons,” and not seen yourself in the story? (Jesus’ story of the Prodigal Son) Who hasn’t read, “Thou art the man,” and known that could be said of them? (Nathan’s statement to King David after his adultery with Bathsheba)

When our oldest son was four years-old I asked him what he wanted to be when he grew up. He said, “I’m going to be Goliath, and get hit in the head with a rock, and I’ll fall down.” Sometimes children see themselves in Bible stories in ways we don’t expect, or intend!

Like a mirror, Scripture enables us to see ourselves. With that in mind, consider King Hezekiah and his request that God extend his life when told that he would die. Found in 2 Kings 20, we learn that Hezekiah wept bitterly and asked God to remember his faithfulness. God heard his prayer and added fifteen years to Hezekiah’s life.

God extended Hezekiah’s life, but Hezekiah would have been better off dead. That sounds exceedingly harsh, but in Isaiah 39 we learn that it’s also true. If you recall, after God extended his life, Hezekiah sinned by showing envoys from Babylon all of his treasures.

Following that, Isaiah told Hezekiah that everything in his palace, and all that his fathers had stored up, would be carried off to Babylon. Not only that, but he told him that some of his own family would become eunuchs in the palace of Babylon’s king (Isaiah 39:5-7).

The consequences of Hezekiah’s sin were huge indeed. But the worst was yet to come, at least as it concerns Hezekiah’s character. After learning that everything the Jewish people built would be destroyed or stolen, and after learning that his own descendents would be emasculated, Hezekiah’s responded: “’The word of the Lord you have spoken is good,’ Hezekiah replied. For he thought, ‘There will be peace and security in my lifetime’” (Isaiah 39:8 NIV).

Have you ever read anything so selfish in all your life!? Yet, if I am honest, I have to admit that I sometimes see myself in Hezekiah. I would never speak it, but Hezekiah’s selfishness was not spoken either. He merely “thought” it. He was secretly thankful that the kingdom wouldn’t fall apart, and his children mutilated, until after he was dead. Of course, God sees our inmost thoughts.

In times of uncertainty, like those in which we live, it is tempting to retreat into your private place and “make the world go away,” to quote country crooner Eddie Arnold. Tempting, but oh so dangerous. We have children and grandchildren, some yet to be born.   And what of the neighborhood boy, the ruffian down the street, who might marry your daughter and be a dad to your grandchildren. We’d best do all we can to love them and reach them with the gospel of Jesus Christ before the sun set.

If I could Google myself in the Scriptures, I would like to see myself in Andrew, who introduced others to Jesus. Or maybe I could be the “man born blind” in John 9, ignorant of many things, but confident in Jesus’ love and power.

How about you? What will be your final heritage … your ending Google? Will you be like Hezekiah who was secretly thankful that he wouldn’t see destruction, or will you prevent destruction by bringing the love and good news of Jesus to your neighbor?  What will God include for your final Google entry? After all, He gets to write the ending.