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Pray for our brothers and sisters in Russia

During my recent trip to Russia March 12-26, there was a front page article in The Moscow Times about religious freedom. “Russia Calls for National Ban on Jehovah’s Witnesses” explained that

The Russian Justice Ministry has formally petitioned the country’s Supreme Court to ban the Jehovah’s Witnesses from operating within Russia.

Officials are calling for the religious group to be disbanded for being an “extremist organization.”

The move would see Russia’s 175,000 Jehovah’s Witnesses unable to legally meet or distribute literature.

After reading the article, I had a discussion with the missionary I was working with. John and I both agreed that this was not necessarily a bad thing because the Jehovah’s Witnesses did not proclaim the true gospel. However, we were concerned that if this group was outlawed, who might become the next target for persecution.

Yesterday, The Moscow Times reported, “Russia Outlaws Jehovah’s Witnesses.”

The Russian Supreme Court formally banned Jehovah’s Witnesses on Thursday, labeling the group an extremist organization. The religious group in Russia will now be forced to dissolve.

The decision equates Russia’s 175,000 Jehovah’s Witnesses to terrorist groups like the Islamic State, and makes it illegal for congregations to meet or distribute literature.

The court refused the group’s earlier appeals to recognize the organization as victims of political repression, and declined to hear testimony from witnesses who claimed that the Russian police have falsified evidence against regional religious groups.

In an article in Christianity Today, “Russia Bans Jehovah’s Witnesses as Extremists,” the author states,

To human rights and religious freedom advocates around the world, the move comes as a major blow. While ties between the Russian Orthodox Church and the Kremlin have put ongoing scrutiny on all non-Orthodox faiths, this case represents the first time the country has banned a registered religious group.

“If Jehovah’s Witnesses are persecuted, then that means later ‘on the block’ will come other religious movements—for example, Protestant churches,” law professor Anatoly Pchelintcev told Portal-Credo, an Orthodox news site. “For the Jehovah’s Witnesses, Armageddon has arrived, and the faithful of other religions await the apocalypse.”

Still, some Russian evangelicals see the repression of Witnesses as reason to worry, according to William Yoder, spokesman for the Russia Evangelical Alliance. Some have brought up German pastor Martin Niemöller’s “First They Came For” poem and asked, “How soon will it hit us if we don’t protest?”

Is this the first domino to fall? Which ones are next in line? What impact will this have on evangelical churches? What impact will it have on evangelical missionaries?

Hmmm. Much to pray about.

To be continued …

 

 
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Posted by on April 21, 2017 in News stories, Russia

 

Handling Criticism – Lessons from Jesus

Last night, First Central Bible Church in Chicopee, MA, held a joint meeting of our elders, deacons, and deaconesses. We meet together 3-4 times a year to touch base on shepherding issues. Towards the end of the meeting, I distributed two handouts on the subject of handling criticism. I explained that as we touch base with people, we may hear criticism and/or complaints about an individual, ministry, or other concern. I wanted to guide the folks in how to respond biblically.

One handout was “Handling Criticism: Lessons from Nehemiah.” (It was posted on my blog on May 5, 2016.) Rather than read the entire handout, I said the short version was that sometimes Nehemiah responded to criticism and sometimes he ignored it. Not every need is a mandate. Sometimes a need or a criticism is a distraction to ignore. We need discernment to know which ones to address and which ones to ignore.

The second handout was “Handling Criticism: Lessons from Jesus.”

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Handling Criticism: Lessons from Jesus

When someone wants to complain to you about a person, ministry, etc., follow the guidelines Jesus gave in Matthew 18:15-20.

15 “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. 16 But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. 17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. 18 Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. 19 Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. 20 For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.”

Ask the person, “Have you talked to _______ ?” (the person who offended them; the person in charge of the ministry they are concerned about, etc.)

If they say, “No,” then graciously stop the person and tell them to practice Mathew 18:15. Graciously tell them to stop gossiping, complaining, and/or venting to someone else.

If they say, “Yes, but the person didn’t listen,” then you can listen to their concern. Afterwards, go with the person to help them seek reconciliation and/or resolution, the second step in Matthew 18:16.

Remember that your role is not to serve as the complaint department or the problem solvers of the church.

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As leaders in the church, I wanted our team to understand that criticism comes with the territory. I shared that every time our church has started to move forward, we’ve been attacked. I’ve been criticized more in the past year than I have in many previous years. Part is due to my position and part to what we’ve been trying to do as a church. When criticism comes, and it will, I want us to respond in a biblical, godly manner.

 

What the Bible says about heaven & hell

Book Review: What Happens After You Die: A Biblical Guide to Paradise, Hell, and Life After Death, by Randy Frazee

If a friend on their death bed asked, “Is belief in Jesus enough to get me into heaven?” how would you respond? That question was posed to pastor and author Randy Frazee by his mother. While he answered his mother with a confident, “Yes,” the question bothered him enough to do a thorough study of the Scriptures. The results of his study are explained in his latest book, What Happens After You Die: A Biblical Guide to Paradise, Hell, and Life After Death.

Pastor Frazee deals with the five most important questions about life after death.

  • Is Jesus enough to get me into heaven?
  • What happens if I die without Christ?
  • What happens if I die with Christ?
  • What happens if I don’t know Christ when he returns?
  • What happens if I do know Christ when he returns?

In addition, he also answers questions such as:

  • Are there such things as ghosts?
  • Are our loved one in heaven watching over us?
  • Is there such a thing as purgatory or Limbo?
  • Are there different degrees of hell?
  • Can we earn wings?
  • Will rewards be given out?
  • Will there be pets in heaven?
  • Will we keep our memories or regrets from life now?
  • Will there be marriages and family in God’s new kingdom?
  • What will our resurrected bodies be like?
  • What will we eat?
  • What will a day in the life on the new earth be like?
  • Do we have guardian angels?
  • Is it okay to be cremated?
  • What about people making predictions about the return of Christ?
  • What about life-after-death and near-death experiences?

As Frazee explains in the opening chapter, the book was born out of a deeply personal search for truth after his mother’s death. Throughout the book, he attempts to separate what is simply cultural tradition from what is truly biblical. He explains not only the death Jesus came to save us from but also the life he came to save us for.

The book is very helpful and encouraging. It clearly explains what Scripture says about what happens after we die.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookLook Bloggers <http://booklookbloggers.com> book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

 
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Posted by on April 20, 2017 in Books, Heaven, Scripture, Theology

 

Introverts Speak Out!

At a TED talk in 2012, author Susan Cain delivered a powerful and helpful address on “The power of introverts.”

In a culture where being social and outgoing are prized above all else, it can be difficult, even shameful, to be an introvert. But, as Susan Cain argues in this passionate talk, introverts bring extraordinary talents and abilities to the world, and should be encouraged and celebrated.

You may not agree with everything she says, but her thoughtful presentation will make you think about the issue. As an introvert myself, I found it very encouraging.

 
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Posted by on April 20, 2017 in Character, Personal growth, Videos

 

What do we mean when we say, “Rest in Peace”?

This was originally published in July 2013. Since I have seen “R.I.P.” posted twice in the past week I thought it might be time to repost.

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I’ve noticed recently that several Christian friends on Facebook post “Rest in Peace” when a well-known actor, author, or celebrity dies. It caused me to ask the question, what exactly do we mean when we say, “Rest in Peace”?

In one sense, death is a time of rest, at least for our physical bodies. Scripture uses the metaphor of “going to sleep” to describe death. This picture is mentioned three times in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18. Dr. Luke uses the same concept in Acts 7 and the apostle Paul uses it again in 1 Corinthians 15 on two occasions. In Mark, chapter 5, the daughter of a religious leader had died and Jairus, her father, begged Jesus for help. Jesus said, “She’s not dead; she is asleep.” In this sense, death is a time of rest.

In another sense, death is a time when we rest from our labors and enjoy our inheritance. Hebrews 4 talks about the “Sabbath rest” for the people of God. It links the idea to God’s work of creating the world in six days and resting on the seventh day as well as Israel’s wandering in the wilderness before entering the Promised Land. Tying them together, to rest means to cease from our labor of trying to earn God’s favor and enjoying the inheritance and blessings he has prepared for us.

This doesn’t mean, however, that eternity will be spent floating on clouds strumming a harp. Scripture pictures heaven as a place where we engage in meaningful activity. We will be engaged in worship (Revelation 22:1-3), praising Christ for providing our salvation. We will also be serving as we reign with Christ in eternity (Revelation 20:6).

However, these pictures of rest are only true of those who trusted Christ for salvation during their lifetime. Those who rejected Christ as savior will find themselves in hell enduring an eternity of suffering (Matthew 13:42, 50).

With this is mind, we need to be careful about whom we say “Rest in Peace” to. We don’t want to come across as closet universalists who believe all people go to heaven regardless of their beliefs or lifestyle. Nor do we want to communicate that we secretly believe God grades on a curve and the more well-known you are, the more likely you will be in heaven. We also don’t want to act as if this life is all there is, and there is no afterlife. In addition, we don’t want to say “Rest in Peace” simply because we don’t know what else to say.

Eternal rest is only available to those who stopped working to earn their salvation. For the Christ follower, they can go to sleep and later wake up in the arms of Jesus. They can rest and fully enjoy the blessings of salvation and heaven.

 

 

 
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Posted by on April 19, 2017 in Facebook, Funerals, Heaven, News stories, Theology

 

Am I indispensable?

If I leave my church, will they miss me? If I leave my church, will they survive without me?

The first question reflects the opinion that I am not needed. The second question shows an attitude of feeling indispensable. The one says I feel like I don’t matter. The other says no one can replace me. The first one assumes that my contributions are so small that anyone could take my place. The second one assumes that the building and church ministries will collapse without me holding them up.

Which position is correct? Both? Neither?

Scripture is pretty clear that once we put our faith in Christ, we are part of the body of Christ. Whether great or small, each of us plays a vital role (1 Corinthians 12:12-26). The body builds itself up as each part does its work (Ephesians 4:16). If I don’t do my part, the church will remain in a state of perpetual adolescence. So, yes, I do matter and the church cannot survive without me.

Scripture is also clear that the church belongs to Christ, not to me. Jesus said, “I will build my church” (Matthew 16:18). He does not need my help. So, yes, I am not indispensable and the church can survive without me.

Over the years, I have experienced both attitudes personally. I left one church and was never missed. Someone else stepped into my position and took it further than I could have. I felt like I hadn’t accomplished anything and was not needed. I was extremely dispensable. Like stepping out of a river, the water filled in the hole where I was standing.

I left another church and heard from several that the church spent years trying to find someone else to do what I did. I had accomplished a great deal. I was indispensable and not easily replaced. I left too big a footprint.

I have also experienced both approaches in other people. Some who existed on the fringe left the church without saying goodbye and we didn’t realize they were gone until someone said, “I haven’t seen so-and-so in a while.” Others left and when we saw them later, they were surprised that we had not closed the doors and filed for bankruptcy in their absence.

Both of these attitudes reflect a wrong view of self. One describes a perception that is far too low while the other is far too high. In Romans 12:3–5, the apostle Paul writes,

For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.

As Christ followers, we need to have an accurate view of ourselves that is neither too high nor too low. We need to recognize that we are part of the body of Christ and have an important role to play. In the passage that follows, Paul goes on to explain that each one of us has a spiritual gift that we are to use in service (6-8). We also have a responsibility to “one another” (9-13).

I have a vital role to play and I am needed in the ministry of the church. But the church belongs to Christ and he will build his church.

 
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Posted by on April 19, 2017 in Church, Personal growth, Scripture

 

The pros & cons of using hymnals in church

Blogger Tim Challies has written two posts on the subject of using hymnals in church.

“What we lost when we lost our hymnals” describes the downside of using projected words instead of hymnals.

“What we gained when we lost the hymnal” describes the upside of using projected words instead of hymnals.

Neither article will convince you if you hold the opposite opinion. But Tim does a good job of being objective about the challenges inherent in the topic.

 
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Posted by on April 18, 2017 in Church, Music, Tim Challies, Worship