What of Those who will never claim the Prize?

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I’ve been reading through Deuteronomy the last few weeks during my morning devotional time. This amazing book records Moses’ final spoken words to Israel before his death. It is rich with content and contains a powerful message for us today, multiple messages really. But one that has stayed with me for many days is Moses’ plea to God that he be allowed to enter the Promised Land. In Deuteronomy 3:23-28 we read that Moses “begged the Lord … please let me cross over and see the beautiful land on the other side of the Jordan…. But the Lord was angry with me … and would not listen to me. The Lord said to me, ‘That’s enough! Do not speak to me again about this matter’ … But commission Joshua and encourage and strengthen him, for he will cross over ahead of the people and enable them to inherit this land.”

There is great emotion and sadness in this story. For 40 years Moses had led God’s people. With humility and faithfulness he led them and prayed for them and protected them. But in the end, only two men above the age of 20 when they left Egypt were allowed to enter the Promised Land – Joshua and Caleb. All the others died. The wilderness was littered with their corpses for 40 years. Then, when all above age 60 were dead, save Joshua and Caleb, Joshua led Israel into the Promised Land.

A question that came to me is this: What did God do in Israel during those 40 years in the Wilderness? One thing He did was enable those who died to prepare the generation that would conquer and claim the land. Moses and the others fathered children, multiplied their numbers, then raised them, taught them, trained them, made disciples of them. They taught the younger generation to trust God and follow God. Moses taught Joshua leadership skills and built strength into him for the task that was to come. Then, after 40 years of funerals, when the elders were dead, the people were ready to claim God’s promise.

Imagine living your whole life knowing that you will never achieve your dreams. You will never have what God had wanted to give you, if only you had remained faithful to Him. That was the situation that Moses and the elders faced. Their sinfulness and rebellion caused them to miss a tremendous blessing. And when it did, their purpose became that of preparing their children to claim the blessing.

No one knows what tomorrow holds for any of us. But I do know this, if Jesus’ return is delayed for another decade, or century, or millennium, nothing we do is more important than making disciples of the next generation of God’s people. When I think of the lostness of the Northwest, I think of the little ones who don’t have moms and dads teaching them to love Jesus. I think of college students, 625,000 of them in the Northwest, most of whom are giving no thought as to what God wants for their life.

Whatever we are doing, we had best do all we can to teach our children and grandchildren how to walk with God, and we’d best teach the neighbor kids how to walk with God as well. Our schools and universities are mission fields. We may not live to see the next Great Awakening , the Day of the Lord, or the Glorious Day, in which case our greatest work may be the investment we make in those whom God will use on that Day.

As I see it, that was the task of those whom Moses led out of Egypt. That’s what God did through them. They lived and died so that others could conquer.

Last week I read an excellent biography of Thomas Jefferson titled American Sphinx by Joseph Ellis. One thing that Ellis noted was that the remarkable leadership of the Founding Fathers was due in part to “the self-conscious sense that the future was watching,” thus it “elevated the standards and expectations of all concerned. At least in a small way, we are complicitous in their achievement because we were the ultimate audience for their performances” (p. 300f).
As parents, pastors, leaders, it will serve us well to remember that the future, and God, are watching what we do. It is also comforting, in a way, to know that we have a part to play in the great drama of building God’s Kingdom, even if our part is preparing those who themselves will claim the promise.

The Prison Outhouse was the Only Place We Could Worship

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Something that I regularly do is check a couple of websites for articles on the persecution of Christians. One site is http://www.persecution.org and another is http://www.opendoorsusa.org. Today I read an article on Open Doors (an organization founded by Brother Andrew for those of you who remember him) that I thought I would repost to my blog.

For those of you who are pastors or Bible teachers, I highly recommend that you check sites like these. On them you will learn some of what is happening with and to believers worldwide. You will also read stories that you can share with your church. When we read such stories it helps us to put things in better perspective. It is so easy to get bothered by things that, in the end, are trivial or silly when compared to what Christians are facing elsewhere. So the article below comes from Open Doors and the author is Emily Fuentes, dated January 13, 2016.

Hea Woo’s Story

The sharp, cold wind blew through the prison cell, but Hea Woo could hardly feel it… she could hardly feel anything. “I was within hours of death; sick, malnourished and frozen from the deplorable conditions of the prison cell,” shared Hea Woo. “I didn’t think I would be alive to be used by God. I didn’t think I would ever see the outside of the prison cell.”

But then something happened that would change Hea Woo’s life and the lives of many fellow prisoners. “I felt God stir a fire in my heart to share the gospel with others in prison.”

Hea Woo knew that this was impossible for many reasons; The prison guards were capable of murdering anyone who shared about Christianity. And she also didn’t know which prisoners would report her if she did share the gospel message.

For three long days, Hea Woo tried to ignore the calling God had placed on her heart. But after three days she could ignore it no longer, as God had given her very specific instructions.

“Share your cornmeal with another prisoner.” It did not seem like much, but when Hea Woo gave her cornmeal to a fellow prisoner, she literally gave them life. “I realized that was my calling- to bring life to those who were dying. By giving my own food, I was able to give them life and make a sacrifice of my own. This opened up many possibilities to share about Christ.”

One by one more and more prisoners were interested in hearing about Christ, as they were amazed by Hea Woo’s sacrifice. She had to be wise about the best ways to minister to others and the safest place to fellowship, so she prayed for guidance.

“God placed it on my heart: The outhouse of the prison was the only place we could worship.” And so they worshipped God in the most lowly and unlikely place. In that outhouse, they were free to fellowship and worship, even though they were in prison in North Korea.

After several years, Hea Woo was able to leave North Korea, but the mark she left is still felt in the country. God used her to bring several people to Christ, heal many and start several house churches.
Today, more than 50,000 to 70,000 Christians remain in North Korean prison camps. Learn more about how you can help these believers.

*Representative names to protect persecuted Christians

Evangelism in an Election Year

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President Clinton was impeached when I was a local church pastor. The issues involved matters of morality that required a response from pastors, on occasion, but doing this in a “non-political way” wasn’t always easy. The Sunday following his impeachment was most memorable. I began my message saying that in the past week someone had done something to our country for which I could never forgive them. “The harm to our country was so great it could not be overlooked,” I said. I could see the congregation bracing themselves for what I would say next. They thought, “Oh no, here it comes!” And then, just when they thought I was about to launch into a political rant, I said, “I will never forgive Michael Jordan for retiring from the NBA!” which was the other “big news story” of the week. That statement prompted the biggest outburst of laughter we ever enjoyed together.

All laughter aside, political issues are always difficult for pastors and churches, and perhaps doubly so in an election year. And when politics intersects with biblical teaching, it often requires a response from pastors. But as important as elections are, and they are important, evangelizing the lost is truly vital. And lest you want to evangelize only Democrats, or only Republicans, I want to suggest some guidelines for our conversations with others, particularly with unbelievers.

First, the Gospel of Jesus Christ must be the supreme message of our lives. When speaking with unbelievers, do not risk offending them and lose any chance of witness by discussing politics. Stick with Jesus as your subject. If we confuse receiving Jesus with adhering to a particular political viewpoint we will destroy our witness to at least half of our neighbors.

Second, God’s ways are not man’s ways. Politics and elections don’t deter or detour Him. There are many biblical examples of God orchestrating the politics exactly the opposite of what believers would have preferred. Nebuchadnezzar and Cyrus were God’s instruments, the Bible says, though they were pagan rulers and wicked men. Contemporary historians say that Chairman Mao Zedong, the atheistic ruler of China for 27 years, who sought to destroy the church, helped to establish the conditions for the explosive church growth that China has experienced in the past 30 years. I read recently that the two countries in which the Church is growing fastest, as a percentage of the population, are Iran and Afghanistan. The article suggested that growth is being accelerated by hardline, Islamic rulers, which are turning people away from Islam and toward the Prince of Peace.

Third, heart transformation is the work of the Holy Spirit. The most important thing we can do for the lost is lead them to Jesus, then teach them to pray and read the Word. If they (or we!) will do these things, the Holy Spirit will transform their (our) minds so that they (we) become more like Jesus. When people come to Jesus their morality and worldview changes. About a year ago one of our Northwest churches led a young couple to Christ who made their living by farming marijuana. The pastor told me that they got very involved in Bible study and were hungry to grow in Christ. By the fall, the couple became convicted that they needed a new line of work. Jesus saved them, forgave them, and He is transforming their hearts and minds. Note that salvation came before transformation.

Fourth, the “world” already regards us politically. The message of the Church to the lost world is too often a political message, and that is a shame. If you ask an unbeliever what a conservative, evangelical Christian is, he will describe them with political language. We have already seen this in the current presidential race as various candidates vie for the “evangelical vote.” It is far better to be known for the ministry we do and the God honoring character we have than the political stand we take, or the candidate we endorse, if we want to have spiritual influence with the lost.

Finally, the true Gospel is cross-cultural and cross-political. It works in every context. The Gospel works in Afghanistan, Ethiopia and the United States. It works in free societies and in those ruled by tyrants. The true Gospel can bring conviction of sin to liberals and conservatives, and both need Jesus.

I once had a professor whose father was a pastor. He said that a man once came to his father asking for spiritual counsel. He visited with the man, and then asked, “Aren’t you a member of such-and-such a church? Isn’t so-and-so your pastor?” The man said that yes, he was correct on both matters. My professor’s father then asked, “Why didn’t you go to your pastor for counsel?” And the man said, “If I needed a golfing tip I would speak with my pastor, but I needed to speak with a man of God.” Ouch!

That is the greatest lesson that professor ever taught me and I’ve never forgotten it. Whether you are a pastor or a layman, the people you know will figure you out. In time they will know what is most important to you. Each of us must decide, is it more important to share our political opinion or to share Christ. Don’t be known as a political preacher or political Sunday school teacher. Better to be known as a lover of Jesus and seeker of lost souls.