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How We Turn Churches Into Clubs

How We Turn Churches Into Clubs

034C0905LLIn the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, MI sits a huge steam locomotive known as an “Allegheny Locomotive.”  It was an H-8 class built by the Lima Locomotive Works in Lima, OH specifically designed with big horsepower to haul heavy loads of coal through the Allegheny Mountains.  It weighed 771,000 pounds and was 125 feet long.  Only 60 of these locomotives were ever made (from 1941-1948) and just two exist today.  Shortly after production of the Allegheny Locomotive began, they were replaced by diesel engines.

I recently read an article about this locomotive that explained 96% of the energy it produced from the steam was used just to move the locomotive itself.  Only 4% was used to pull the load of freight.  As I read that, it occurred to me this locomotive is an illustration of many churches.  Often a church will have many more members who drain and absorb the resources of the church than it has members who give back through service, giving, and investment of time and giftedness.  If the number of members who help the church carry the load of its mission are greatly outnumbered by the members who do not, then that church is unhealthy and ineffective.

Thom Rainer, in his book I Am a Church Member, illustrates this idea of the “96% and 4%” by showing that many people view their membership in church as they would a membership to a country club.  People join a club because of the perks it brings.  They pay their dues, and this gives them the rights to demand certain services and privileges.  That’s how clubs operate, but it should’t be true of churches.  If church members throw some money in the offering plate and then expect to do nothing but receive services and ministries from the church, they have a skewed and unbiblical view of church membership.  Rainer notes that for people with this mindset “membership is about receiving instead of giving, being served instead of serving, rights instead of responsibilities, and entitlements instead of sacrifices.”

The Allegheny Locomotive

The Allegheny Locomotive

In 1 Cor. 12:12, Paul told the Corinthians that the church is one body made up of many members.  Each member/part of the body has certain functions/responsibilities.  Every church member needs to fulfill his or her responsibility in service to the church.  Thus, in the same chapter, Paul reminded the Corinthians that every follower of Christ has been given at least one gift by the Holy Spirit that is to be employed, not for selfish gain, but for the benefit of others (1 Cor. 12:11; 1 Pet. 4:10). Rainer writes, “With a country club membership you pay others to do the work for you. With church membership, everyone has a role or function. That is why some are hands, feet, ears, or eyes. We are all different, but we are necessary parts of the whole.”

If you are a member of a church, you need to ask yourself the following questions:

  • Am I helping carry the load at my church through pursuing holiness in my personal life, my love toward others, and my service to the church?
  • Am I a part of the group that just drains the church or helps the church fulfill its mission?
  • What is your attitude toward church membership?  Is it a country club mentality?

Each of us who are part of a local body of believers need to examine our attitude and perspective in the role we play in the church and the importance of our membership in it.

 

What If We Got Upset at Sports Like We Get Upset at Church?

What If We Got Upset at Sports Like We Get Upset at Church?

wizfans21354025290What are the things that cause us to be disgruntled at church?  Take a moment and think about this question.  What has frustrated you about church in the past?  What are the top things that disgruntle people in general?  Yes, the church is far from perfect and there are indeed times when our criticisms and concerns are justified.  But have you ever noticed that all too often we hold the church to a standard of which we would never hold other things in our lives.  For example: sports.  As a result, we show that we are more committed to our favorite sports team than we are our own church.

Years ago I came across a tongue-in-cheek article highlighting the things we get disgruntled at in church, but quickly overlook when it comes to sports- particularly going to games.  Read these, note the similarities, and catch the point it makes.

I’ve decided to stop going to games because of the following:

  • Every time I went to a game, they asked me for money.
  • The people with whom I had to sit didn’t seem very friendly.
  • The seats were too hard and not at all comfortable.
  • I had to park too far away from the stadium.
  • I went to many games, but the coach never came to call on me.
  • The referee made a decision with which I did not agree.
  • I suspected that I was sitting with some hypocrites- they came
    to see their friends and what others were wearing rather than to see the game.
  • Some games went into overtime causing me to be late getting home.
  • The band played some songs that I had never heard before and did not like.
  • It seems that the games are scheduled when I want to do other things.
  • My parents took me to too many games when I was growing up so I don’t need to go to any more games now.
  • I don’t want to take my children to any games, because I want them to choose for themselves what sport they like best.

Isn’t interesting what we get disgruntled at church for and what we overlook at games?  All of this is to say- yes, the church isn’t perfect, but the church is what God has created for Christians to have relationships with other Christians to help us on the journey of following Christ.  So, the church is very important as well as our commitment and involvement in it.  Rather than always grumbling at the church, why not cut it a little slack like you do your favorite sports team?  Instead of always focusing on and pointing out the problems in church, why not make the commitment and expend the energy to be part of the solution?  If every church member did this, I wonder what changes would happen at your church?

Curious How Much Training it Takes to Run a Marathon?

Curious How Much Training it Takes to Run a Marathon?

I have many people ask me how many weeks and how much running it takes to train for a marathon.  Most training plans are around 18 weeks in duration.  The assumption to this is that you can run for 30 minutes without stopping before starting a training plan.  Below is my training schedule for the OKC Memorial Marathon at the end of April.  Each number is how many miles to be run that day.  “Cross” means you cross train on that day.  Cross training is doing some kind of exercise beneficial to marathon prep that is not running.  This is most commonly done by riding a bike, using an elliptical machine, swimming, or some other low impact exercise.

Week

Mon

Tue

Wed

Thur

Fri

Sat

Sun

1

5

Rest

3

5

8

Cross

3

2

5

Rest

3

5

9

Cross

3

3

5

Rest

3

5

6

Cross

3

4

6

Rest

3

6

11

Cross

3

5

6

Rest

3

6

12

Cross

3

6

5

Rest

3

6

9

Cross

3

7

7

Rest

4

7

14

Cross

4

8

7

Rest

4

7

15

Cross

4

9

5

Rest

4

Rest

13

Cross

4

10

8

Rest

4

8

17

Cross

4

11

8

Rest

5

8

18

Cross

5

12

5

Rest

5

8

13

Cross

5

13

8

Rest

5

5

20

Cross

5

14

5

Rest

5

8

12

Cross

5

15

8

Rest

5

5

20

Cross

5

16

6

Rest

5

4

12

Cross

5

17

5

Rest

4

3

8

Cross

4

18

Rest

3

4

Rest

Rest

2

Marathon

There are numerous plans available for novice to advanced runners.

If you are new to running and attempting your first half or full marathon, I recommend one of the plans from Jeff Galloway.  You can find his training programs and other resources on his website: http://www.jeffgalloway.com.

If you are just starting out, see my blog post on how to get started with running: here.  I also have recorded a podcast about my experience running my first marathon.  Listen here.

Another great resource for marathon training plans are those by Hal Higdon.  The schedule above that I am using is one from Higdon.  Check out his plans and resources here: http://www.halhigdon.com

Running a marathon takes a huge amount of time, effort, and discipline, but achieving the goal feels great.  I wish you all the best if you are attempting your first half/full marathon in 2014.

How to Read the Bible in a Year

How to Read the Bible in a Year

Bible in Hands 2 copy

Along with Scripture memory, reading the entire Bible through in one year is a fantastic discipline for spiritual growth.  As the new year is about to begin, why not choose a Bible reading plan and commit to read the Bible from Gen. 1 to Rev. 22 this coming year?  Yes, it can be a challenge not getting behind on each day (and reading through Numbers!), but what an important and rewarding exercise it is to read the whole Bible in a year.

 Here are a few pointers:

  • Use a modern English translation that is reliable and readable (I recommend the ESV, NASB, or HCSB).  Other translations are good, but avoid using a paraphrase (The Message, The Living Bible) for this task.  Paraphrases are good to supplement your reading/study of the Bible from a reliable translation.

  • Pick a plan that works for you.  Some plans simply follow the books in order as they appear in the Bible.  Others incorporate both Old and New Testament readings each day.  Some include a portion of Psalms and Proverbs each day.  A unique plan is to read the Bible in the historical chronological order as the events actually occurred (link for this plan is below).  This might be a great plan for you if you have previously read the Bible through in a year.

  • Set aside a time and place to read each day.  This time/place needs to allow you freedom from interruptions and distractions.  Turn off the TV, put your phone away, read at a time when the kids are asleep or at school, etc.

  • Don’t get discouraged!  If you miss a day, make it up as soon as possible.  If you lag behind you will get discouraged and quit.  Also, reading large portions of the Bible doesn’t take as long as you think.  Our staff recited from memory the entire book of James last Sunday and it took only 15 minutes.

  • Don’t let reading larger portions of Scripture completely substitute your more in-depth study of passages (such as in a Bible study you are doing, Sunday School lesson, quiet times, etc).

Here are some helpful links to help you accomplish reading through the Bible:

Read the Bible in a year: http://immanuelshawnee.org/wp-content/uploads/PDFs/yearly_bible_reading.pdf

Chronological reading plan: http://www.esv.org/assets/pdfs/rp.chronological.pdf

One Year Bible online: http://www.oneyearbibleonline.com

Bible reading plans in multiple media formats: http://about.esvbible.org/resources/reading/

Have each day’s Bible reading emailed to you: http://www.biblegateway.com/reading-plans/

Read the entire Bible in 90 days: http://www.thebrooknetwork.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/12/BibleIn90Days.pdf

Read the Bible in 2 years: http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/tgc/files/2010/12/TwoYearBibleReadingPlan.pdf

Helpful blog post on importance (as well as strengths/weaknesses) of Bible reading plans: http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/tgc/2010/12/29/two-year-bible-reading-plan/

Read the Greek New Testament in a year: http://www.dennyburk.com/Stuff/ReadGreekNT.pdf

 

 

How to Memorize Scripture

How to Memorize Scripture

iStock_000001547067SmallWhy is it important and what are the benefits of memorizing Scripture?  Scripture memory is a powerful tool in growing deeper in your walk with Christ.

The Benefits of Memorizing Scripture

Dallas Willard- “Bible memorization is absolutely fundamental to spiritual formation.  If I had to choose between all the disciplines of the spiritual life, I would choose Bible memorization, because it is a fundamental way of filling our minds with what it needs.  This book of the law shall not depart out of your mouth. That’s where you need it!  How does it get in your mouth?  Memorization.”

There is a direct joy that comes from memorizing Scripture.  When your mind is filled with the word of God, it brings a direct joy in that it reveals to you the beauty of Christ.  The word reveals the person of Christ, His perfection, His grace, and His love.  The word of God reveals the tremendous promises of God.  There is also an indirect joy that comes from memorizing Scripture.  When your mind is filled with the word of God it brings indirect joy in that it weans you off the toxic pleasures of the world by means of the superior pleasures of Christ.

Life is going to throw some tough stuff at us.  Temptation to sin, either through lust, greed, pride, anger, you name it.  We will have crushing blows that seem to defeat us. People will disappoint us.  Tragedy will bring great grief.  Notice how many Scripture verses there are that directly apply to so many of the situations we face in life.  What if we had those verses already memorized when those tough challenges come our way?  Psalm 119:9,11- “How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to your word… I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.”

Let’s say you’re facing a situation that tempts you to sin. What do you have in your toolbox to fight against such a temptation- just your willpower?  If so, you’re probably in trouble.  But what if the Holy Spirit brings to mind at this point of spiritual battle a verse from God’s Word? All of these are illustrations of what Eph. 6:17 calls the “sword of the Spirit.”  When the Holy Spirit brings to your mind a pertinent spiritual truth at just the right moment it is a weapon- a sword- that makes the difference in spiritual battle.  Jesus did this in Matt. 4:1-11 when Satan tempted him.  Each time Satan tempted Jesus with a different temptation, Jesus had a spot on Bible verse that directly refuted the specific temptation Satan was throwing at him.  Jesus used Bible passages as weapon against temptation.  But that weapon has to be in place. This is where Scripture memorization comes in.

We can apply this same principle to times when we are trying to encourage someone going through a difficult time, sharing our faith, or making decisions.

Chuck Swindoll- “I know of no other single practice in the Christian life more rewarding, practically speaking, than memorizing Scripture… No other single exercise pays greater spiritual dividends!  Your prayer life will be strengthened.  Your witnessing will be sharper and much more effective.  Your attitudes and outlook will begin to change.  Your mind will become alert and observant.  Your confidence and assurance will be enhanced.  Your faith will be solidified.”

So, memorizing Scripture is beneficial to spiritual health and daily life.  But how do we do it?

The Method of Memorizing Scripture

You can memorize better than you think!

Many people say they cannot memorize Scripture because they have a bad memory.  Forgive me, but this is really just an excuse for the vast majority of us.  The problem is not our memory, the problem is we don’t want to be disciplined to put in the work required to memorize Scripture.  What if I offered to pay you $1,000 for every verse you memorized for the next 7 days?  How many verses do you think you could memorize then?  Also, how many movie lines, slogans, and cultural idioms have you committed to memory?  Several years ago the Lord convicted me of how many lines I had involuntarily memorized from movies I had repeatedly watched compared to the amount of Scripture I had memorized.

How do we memorize Scripture?

Write the Verses

1. Buy a pack of Post-It notes. Determine a color that suits your tastes. A color that is too dark or neon does not lend itself to memorization.

2.
Write (in black ink) on each Post-It note one phrase of the verse. Continue this until you have written the entire verse.

3.
Affix the Post-Its to a highly visible place in your bedroom or bathroom where you look often. Post them in vertical descending order. Take additional Post-Its and cover all phrases except the first one.

4.
Memorize the first Post-It. Recite it out loud, 5-10 times without error.

5.
Uncover the next Post-It. Follow step four again, this time with both Post-Its. Do this until the entire verse is memorized.

For a passage of Scripture, write out the passage on a page.  Cover the passage with a sheet of paper except for the first verse.  Recite the first verse 5-10 times and then move to the next verse reciting the previous verse(s) with it.

Memorize Word Perfectly

It’s a temptation, especially when you’re first starting out to fudge on the exact wording.  You get about ¾ of the verse memorized, then insert a few words you made up.  Don’t settle for just getting close, or for the main idea of the verse, or leaving off the reference number of the verse.  Why?  Without an objective standard of measure, you may keep lowering the bar and then eventually quit altogether.  Also, if you don’t have the verse memorized exactly you will lose confidence in sharing that verse to help a friend or witness to someone.  Incidentally, verses you know word perfectly are easier to review than those you don’t know so well.

Seek Accountability

Find a friend to whom you can recite your verses.  This will build accountability.  Here’s a great idea: find a person who doesn’t know the Lord to listen to you recite Bible verses.

Draw Picture Reminders

Sounds silly, but the reality is that most of us are visual learners- especially in this era of technology.  Doesn’t have to be elaborate or “good” art, but making a verse visual can help it stick in your mind better.

  • Psalm 119:11- a heart with a Bible inside of it.
  • Matt. 5:13- saltshaker over planet earth
  • Matt. 7:3-5- plank in the eye

Review, Review, Review!

Reviewing a verse takes a fraction of the time than actually learning or saying the verse aloud. Review your memorized verses once a week, then perhaps once a month, then every 6 months.  It doesn’t take a lot of time to keep a sharp edge on remembering verses. Review verses when you are waiting in traffic, or for an appointment, or trying to go to sleep at night.  Review is important or you will lose what you memorized.

I hope you will make the effort to memorize Scripture.  I believe it will give you a love for God’s Word and will in turn be life-changing.

The Real Issue Behind the Duck Dynasty Flap and What Should Be Learned From It

The Real Issue Behind the Duck Dynasty Flap and What Should Be Learned From It

11174The controversy surrounding the suspension of Phil Robertson by A&E over his comments opposing homosexuality has undoubtedly crowded the newsfeed of just about everyone’s choice of social media.  Sadly, it appears to have brought out the worst of some people on both sides of the controversy.

More than the issue of free speech or the merits of the show itself, the Duck Dynasty dust up signals the significant shift of the moral landscape and perception of biblical authority in this country.  The reality is that 20 years ago comments such as this would not have drawn the firestorm as we see today.  At the heart of this controversy is not Phil Robertson, A&E, or reality TV, but rather the growing intolerance of secularism against a particular Christian conviction: homosexuality.

The subsequent issue becomes how both sides are going to respond to each other over this issue.  The comments Robertson made in the GQ article were crude, but they were not inflammatory (read the article here).  Thus, the whole thing seems to have been blown out of proportion.  And to be fair, I have seen countless comments from conservative Christians that were inappropriate and completely unhelpful in contributing anything to the debate.

My query in all of this is why each side feels the need to silence the other with bullying tactics.  This is absolutely not the way to get someone who believes differently than you to change his or her mind.  The controversy also brings to the fore the completely erroneous mindset that to disagree with someone means you hate them or think them to be backward.  Both sides need to jettison this approach posthaste.  To this end, I came across two quotes that are especially helpful on this point.  Each quote comes from both sides of this controversy.

Here’s the first quote from Russell Moore, President of the Ethics and Religious Life Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention and a conservative evangelical:

“Let’s have the sort of cultural conversation that allows us to seek to persuade each other, not to seek to silence one another with intimidation. That’s what real diversity is all about.”  (Read Moore’s full article here)

Here’s the second quote from Brandon Ambrosino, a writer and professional dancer based in Baltimore and is gay:

“For the record, I’m undecided on whether or not I think Phil actually is homophobic, although I certainly think his statement was offensive… But I also think that if I were to spend a day calling ducks with Phil, I’d probably end up liking him- even in spite of his position on gay men. It’s quite possible to throw one’s political support behind traditional, heterosexual marriage, and yet not be bigoted.  I’m reminded of something Bill Maher said during the height of the Paula Deen controversy: ‘Do we always have to make people go away?’ I think the question applies in this situation too.

Why is our go-to political strategy for beating our opponents to silence them? Why do we dismiss, rather than engage them? One of the biggest pop-culture icons of today just took center stage to “educate” us about sexuality. I see this as an opportunity to further the discussion, to challenge his limited understanding of human desire, to engage with him and his rather sizable audience — most of whom, by the way, probably share his views-  and to rise above the endless sea of tweet-hate to help move our LGBT conversations to where they need to go.  G.K. Chesterton said that bigotry is ‘an incapacity to conceive seriously the alternative to a proposition.’ If he is right- and he usually is- then I wonder if the Duck Dynasty fiasco says more about our bigotry than Phil’s.”  (Read Ambrosino’s full article in Time here)

The best way to convince the other side of your position is through thoughtful engagement, not bullying tactics with the aim of silencing the opposition through pedantic and inflammatory comments.  Christians need to be careful not to shun those with whom they disagree, but rather through our words and actions point people to Christ and the truth of His Word.  After all, is this not how Jesus did it?

 

 

On Consumerism and Being Thankful

On Consumerism and Being Thankful

store-crowd-black-friday-blur-615cs112212I came across an insightful piece last week written by blogger Matt Walsh (read his post here). In it, he makes the distinction between capitalism (which he is for, and I am too) and consumerism. Capitalism doesn’t automatically mean consumerism. Sadly, our culture doesn’t understand this distinction. Walsh writes about the intersection of consumerism and the Thanksgiving holiday:

That’s our entire economic system: buy things. Everybody buy. It doesn’t matter what you buy. Just buy. It doesn’t matter if you don’t have money. Just buy. Our entire civilization now rests on the assumption that, no matter what else happens, we will all continue to buy lots and lots of things. Buy, buy, buy. And then buy a little more. Don’t create, or produce, or discover- just buy. Never save, never invest, never cut back- just buy. Buy what you don’t need with money you don’t have. Buy when you’re happy. Buy when you’re sad. Buy when you’re hungry. Buy when you want to lose weight. Buy an iPhone. Six months have passed, here, buy another iPhone. Go online and buy things. Go to the mall and buy things. On your way, stop and buy some more things. Buy things for every occasion. Buy things to celebrate. Buy things to mourn. Buy things to keep up with the trends. Buy things while you’re buying things, and then buy a couple more things after you’re done buying things. If you want it- buy it. If you don’t want it- buy it. Don’t make it- buy it. Don’t grow it- buy it. Don’t cultivate it- buy it. If you are alive you must buy. Buy like you breathe, only more frequently.

How appropriate, then, that a holiday created by our ancestors as an occasion to give thanks for what they had, now morphs into a frenzied consumerist ritual where we descend upon shopping malls to accumulate more things we don’t need. Our great grandparents enjoyed a meal and praised the Lord for the food on the table and the friends and family gathered around it. We, having slightly altered the tradition, instead elect to bum-rush elderly women and trample over children to get our hands on cheap TVs.

What he says here is sad, but true.  We have now expanded “Black Friday” to Thanksgiving day. Walsh continues:

For a while, Black Friday and Thanksgiving coexisted. We thanked God for His blessings on Thursday, and then jumped into the consumer mosh pit at Best Buy on Friday. But this Black Friday-Thanksgiving marriage was tenuous and rocky from the start. It was doomed to fail. Thanksgiving offers tradition, family and contentment; Black Friday offers smart phones at drastically reduced prices. In America, we all know who wins that battle. So Black Friday, like a black hole, violently expanded; it absorbed the light that surrounded it and sucked everything into its terrifying abyss, where all substance is torn to shreds and obliterated. Black Friday could not be contained to a mere 24 hours. It is Consumerism. It wants more. It always wants more. Nothing is sacred to it; nothing is valuable. So, now, Black Friday has eaten Thanksgiving alive. Thanksgiving let out a desperate cry as Black Friday devoured its soul, but we barely noticed. It’s hard to hear anything when you’re wrestling 4,000 other people for buy one get one free cargo shorts at Old Navy.

I think we should step back and really consider if shopping on Thanksgiving Day is what we should be doing. As Walsh notes in his post, if we are shopping on Thanksgiving then we are a part of the problem of consumerism.  I know I always want to be part of the solution to that problem.

I might add here that I see the problem of consumerism in our culture in general and even in the church.  Church, for more and more, is not about what I can give and how I can serve, but merely about what I can get from it.  Getting people to volunteer is a pandemic problem in the church today. Let’s avoid the consumerist mentality- at Thanksgiving and at all times.  Let’s live in wisdom and moderation seeking how we can give more than we take or get.  That is an attitude that places us in line with the heart/mind of God and causes us to truly be thankful and dependent on Him.

Philippians 2:5-8- “Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped,  but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men.  Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”

What’s the Purpose of Pain?

What’s the Purpose of Pain?

eric-liddellWhen we go through storms in life- trials, pain, heartache, stress, etc.- Christians almost always ask “Why?”  We want to know the purpose behind pain.  We know from the Scripture and from experience that God sometimes sends or allows hardship in our lives to correct us when we have strayed from him or to teach us some lesson (the old saying, “storms of correction and storms of perfection”).  Let’s face it- none of us would ever testify that we grew closest to God in times that were smooth and stress-free.  It is in the midst of the storm that God gets our attention and brings us to the end of ourselves.  C.S. Lewis wrote in The Problem of Pain, “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”  Pain is so often the crucible of learning.

There is another possible purpose in our suffering that doesn’t revolve around our being corrected or instructed.  Sometimes God simply wants to use our suffering to do a work in the lives of others.  Think of it- how many times have you seen the faithful response of a follower of Christ in the face of suffering that encouraged or emboldened you in your faith?

The Apostle Paul is an excellent biblical example of God using a person’s suffering to benefit others.  Look at what Paul told the Philippians in 1:12-14- “I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ. And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear.”  Notice that he doesn’t say the gospel made progress in spite of his adversity (that’s how we think of it often in our lives), but rather the adversity itself had turned out for the advancement of the gospel.  Paul’s suffering of imprisonment led to elite Roman troops coming to faith in Christ and giving courage to Christians in Rome to live out and share the gospel with boldness.  There are times when the purpose of suffering is God working in the lives of others.  That’s a perspective we need to learn regarding our own suffering.

A powerful modern-day example of God using our pain in this way is the story of Eric Liddel.  In his book If God is Good, Randy Alcorn tell us “the rest of the story” regarding Liddel.

Eric Liddell, “The Flying Scotsman” of the movie Chariots of Fire, shocked everyone by refusing to run the 100 meters in the 1924 Paris Olympics- a race experts favored him to win.  He withdrew because the qualifying heat took place on a Sunday, and he refused to “violate the Sabbath.”  Liddell went on to win a gold medal- and break the world record- in the 400 meters, which was not his strongest event.  Most know about Liddel’s life as it relates to the Olympics and his refusal to run on Sunday.  However, many do not know what happened to Liddel after the Olympics were over.

For a number of years Liddell served as a missionary in China, but when the Japanese occupation made life dangerous, he sent his pregnant wife and two daughters to Canada.  Japanese invaders delivered him to a squalid prison camp where he lived several years before dying at age forty-three of a brain tumor, a few months before the war ended.  Liddell never saw his family again in this life and never got to see the youngest of his three daughters.

Why did God withhold from this great man of faith a long life, years of fruitful service, the companionship of his wife, and the joy of raising those beloved children?  It makes no sense.  “Where is God in that?” we might ask.

And yet consider another perspective on the suffering Eric Liddel endured…

Margaret Holder was born in China to missionary parents.  In 1939, when Japan took control of eastern China, soldiers separated thirteen-year-old Margaret from her parents and imprisoned her for six years.     In an interview, Margaret recounted many stories of her experience in the concentration camp.  Many of these stories included a godly man who tutored her and the other children, organized sporting events, and brought God’s Word to them.   All the children in the camp loved him deeply.  He was their inspiration.  He helped to protect and care for them.  In the interview, Margaret then revealed the man’s name:  He was known as “Uncle Eric.”

Through fresh tears, Margaret said, “It was a cold February day when Uncle Eric died.”  If all Scotland mourned Liddell’s death, no one mourned like the children in that camp.  Only five months later, paratroopers rescued the camp’s survivors, so the children were at last reunited with their families.

Eric Liddell’s presence in that camp broke the hearts of his family.  But for years, nearly to the war’s end, God used him as a lifeline to hundreds of children, including Margaret Holder.

May the example of Eric Liddel cause us to look at our suffering, and the suffering of others, from the perspective that God may well be using our pain for the benefit of others and for God to do a work in their lives.  Would you be willing to suffer so that God could use it for His purposes?

 

 

The Martyrdom of Polycarp: How Christians Should Respond to Opposition Against Their Faith

The Martyrdom of Polycarp: How Christians Should Respond to Opposition Against Their Faith

polycarp-martyrdomOne of the earliest martyrdoms recorded by the early church was that of Polycarp, the Bishop of Smryna, in the mid second century.  According to multiple sources, Polycarp was a student of the Apostle John.  Polycarp was killed by government authorities because he refused to burn incense to Caesar and make the required statement, “Caesar is Lord.”

The “persecution” and “suffering” we face in the West for our faith in Christ dims in comparison to the suffering Polycarp faced or to the struggles Christians endure today in countries where there is no freedom of religion.  And yet, all who genuinely follow Christ will encounter friction of some degree with the world. It is inevitable when one lives for God who is perfectly pure in a world that is fallen and cursed by sin.  Jesus told his followers this would be case- “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.” (John 15:18-19).

When we face trouble with the world because of our faith in Christ and belief in the Bible, may our response be as that of Polycarp.  May we stand fast in our faith and serve as a faithful witness while never retaliating in anger to our tormentors.  Below is the account of Polycarp’s martyrdom:

Therefore, when he was brought before him, the proconsul asked if he were Polycarp.  And when he confessed that he was, the proconsul tried to persuade him to recant, saying, “Swear by the Genius of Caesar.”  When the magistrate persisted and said “Swear the oath, and I will release you; revile Christ,” Polycarp replied, “For eighty-six years I have been his servant, and he has done me no wrong.  How can I blaspheme my King who saved me?”

But as he continued to insist, saying, “Swear by the Genius of Caesar,” he answered; “If you vainly suppose that I will swear by the Genius of Caesar, as you request, and pretend not to know who I am, listen carefully; I am a Christian…”

So the proconsul said, “I have wild beasts; I will throw you to them, unless you change your mind.”  But he said; “Call for them!  For the repentance from better to worse is a change impossible for us; but it is a noble thing to change from that which is evil to righteousness.”  Then he said to him again; “I will have you consumed by fire, since you despise the wild beasts, unless you change your mind.”  But Polycarp said, “You threaten with a fire that burns only briefly and after just a little while is extinguished, for you are ignorant of the fire of the coming judgment and eternal punishment, which is reserved for the ungodly.  But why do you delay?  Come, do what you wish.”

As he spoke these and many other words, he was inspired with courage and joy, and his face was filled with grace, so that not only did he not collapse in fright at the things which were said to him, but on the contrary the proconsul was astonished, and sent his own herald into the midst of the stadium to proclaim three times; “Polycarp has confessed that he is a Christian.”*

According to the church fathers, Polycarp was tied to a stake and the kindling beneath it was lit, but the flames didn’t touch him.  So the authorities stabbed him to death.

May this powerful example of faithfulness even in the face of death always be true of us when we face opposition for following Christ.  May we always stand for God’s Truth and do so in a loving way that exemplifies the Master we serve.

*“The Martyrdom of Polycarp” translated by Michael Holmes in The Apostolic Fathers: Greek Texts and English Translations

 

When the Fog of Pain Eclipses the Truth of Hope

When the Fog of Pain Eclipses the Truth of Hope

FogSome of the toughest times we face in life cause us to lose sight of the full truth that God is with us in the storm and is the victor over sin, death, disease, and injustice that cause the storms.

The Battle of Waterloo is one of the most famous battles in history.  It occurred in what is modern day Belgium on June 18, 1815.  It pitted the French army, commanded by Napoleon who had recently escaped from exile, against the Anglo-German-Dutch forces led by the Duke of Wellington and the Prussian forces commanded by Gerhard Blucher.  It was a battle of immense importance and was won by Wellington.

There is an interesting story of how the news about the outcome at Waterloo reached England.  News was carried first by a ship that sailed from Europe across the English Channel to England’s southern coast.  The news was then relayed from the coast by signal flags to London.  When the report was received in London at Winchester Cathedral, the flags atop the cathedral began to spell out Wellington’s defeat of Napoleon to the entire city.  “Wellington defeated…” However, before the message could be completed, a good-old fashioned London fog moved in, and the rest of the message was hidden.

Based on incomplete information, the people of London thought Napoleon had defeated Wellington.  That would have been devastating for England.  Gloom began to fill the nation as the bad news spread quickly everywhere.  But when the fog began to lift, the flags high up Winchester Cathedral completed the news: “Wellington defeated the enemy!” The English fears had been unfounded. Joy immediately replaced the gloom.  All over England people danced in the streets, rejoicing at this great victory over one of the most dangerous enemies England ever faced.

There are times in our lives when we go through storms of pain, disappointment, grief, stress, etc. that leave us in a fog of wondering if we will ever make it through the storm.  We doubt God’s purpose and plan in the storm and may even doubt the existence of God himself.  We are like the disciples on Good Friday night. They went home that evening in despair.  They weren’t focused on the event that would come Sunday.  Jesus’ resurrection was the full story.

Trying times can easily put us in a “fog” that obscures the truth of the total message.  One, if you are a follower of Christ you are never alone.  You have One who has suffered as you have suffered and walks through the storm with you right now.  Isa. 43:2- “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
and the flame shall not consume you.”

Two, always remember that in the end Jesus wins.  Sin, Satan, the forces of evil- the things that cause so much of our pain- will one day be vanquished by Jesus and he will consummate his perfect kingdom on the last day.  The New Testament teaches in many places the fact of Jesus’ victory should be great encouragement for us struggling in the present.  Don’t let the fog of pain today eclipse the glory of your eternity in Christ.