Will Christians in America face more persecution?

Posted by    |    October 19th, 2017 at 5:53 am

A New Jersey teacher was suspended for giving a student a Bible. A football coach was placed on leave for praying on the field. The Atlanta fire chief was fired for self-publishing a book defending Christian morality.

A Marine was court-martialed for refusing to remove a Bible verse on her desk. A senator castigated a political nominee for his evangelical theology. Christian groups like InterVarsity Christian Fellowship have been expelled from college campuses.

It’s hard for evangelical Christians not to feel that our culture is increasingly antagonistic toward our faith and values today.

I raise this topic because of a fascinating report released yesterday. Sociologist George Yancey shows that those who oppose evangelical Christianity have become wealthier in recent years and thus have more money to bankroll their viewpoint. In other words, we can expect intolerance to continue and even escalate in coming years.

Obviously, American Christians should not compare the opposition we face with the persecution being suffered in countries such as North Korea, Somalia, and Iraq. But Mary Eberstadt is right: “Something new has snaked its way into the village square: an insidious intolerance for religion that has no place in a country founded on religious freedom.”

How should we respond?

God wants his people to work for the common good regardless of how society treats us. He instructed his people exiled in Babylon to “seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf” (Jeremiah 29:7). The apostles led a movement that met physical, social, and spiritual needs so effectively that they won “favor with all the people” (Acts 2:47).

Conversely, one of the ways God redeems persecution is by using it to remind us that this world is not our home: “Here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come” (Hebrews 13:14). We are “sojourners and exiles” in this fallen world (1 Peter 2:11), knowing that this life is a journey and heaven is our destination.

In The Problem of Pain, C. S. Lewis famously noted:

“The settled happiness and security which we all desire, God withholds from us by the very nature of the world: but joy, pleasure, and merriment, he has scattered broadcast. We are never safe, but we have plenty of fun, and some ecstasy.

“It is not hard to see why. The security we crave would teach us to rest our hearts in this world and oppose an obstacle to our return to God: a few moments of happy love, a landscape, a symphony, a merry meeting with our friends, a bath or a football match have no such tendency. Our Father refreshes us on the journey with some pleasant inns, but will not encourage us to mistake them for home.”

Paul called his ministry team “ambassadors for Christ” (2 Corinthians 5:20). He courageously advanced the agenda of his King in distant lands while preparing every day to return home.

Whose agenda will you advance today?

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A crucial lesson from the Bethel School of Supernatural Ministry

Posted by    |    October 18th, 2017 at 10:19 am

Bethel Church is perhaps best known for the worship music routinely heard in churches around the world. Yet those efforts do not represent the whole of their ministry. People from all over the globe tune in to watch their worship services each week, and it’s truly difficult to overstate the positive influence they have had on the kingdom.

As with any group as large and pervasive as Bethel, however, they are not free of controversy. Much of the negative response centers on their School of Supernatural Ministry where students from a multitude of nations come to learn how to better perform the “signs and wonders” seen in the New Testament as a way of helping others come to Christ.

As Molly Hensley-Clancy described, the students like to refer to the school as a “Christian Hogwarts” in reference to the school of wizardry from the Harry Potter books, and it’s not difficult to see why. Over the course of two to three years, they are essentially taught to harness the power of the Holy Spirit in order to heal the sick and hurting, deliver prophetic messages, and generally perform miracles of every sort in the name of the Lord.

To be clear, my issue with the school is not their teaching that miracles are still possible today. The belief that such signs ended with the apostles is one borne from history rather than Scripture, and there are countless places around the globe where the signs and wonders Jesus promised continue to take place. Rather, my issue is with the general theology that Jesus promised to put such power at the beck and call of believers.

The healing power of Christ, even in New Testament times, was never simply a tool imparted by the Holy Spirit to be used whenever the believer deemed fit. Rather, it was always up to God to decide when and where his people could use such powers.

It’s why, for example, Peter and John didn’t/couldn’t heal the lame man in Acts 3 until the Spirit prompted them to do so (Acts 3:1–10). The Greek is clear that there was something special about the way that the Holy Spirit drew their gaze to the crippled beggar that day. It was fundamentally different than the countless times they had previously passed by him, including when they had been with Jesus, and he too had neglected to heal the man.

If the apostles, and even Christ himself, relied on the Father’s guidance to know when and where they could heal people and perform other signs and wonders, then the same is true of us today as well.

The students at the Bethel School are not the only ones who make this mistake, though. You and I do the same thing when we only approach God at those times where we require something of him. That too is acting as though the Lord waits to serve us rather than the other way around.

Throughout much of their history, Israel attempted to turn their relationship with God into the kind of transactional covenant that defined the religion of the nations around them. Each time, it led to pain, loss, and judgment.

I doubt the students and faculty at Bethel truly believe that the power of the Holy Spirit is theirs to command rather than available to those longing only to do as the Father commands. Still, their errors have had tragic consequences and have undermined many of the truly amazing things they have done in the community around them.

Hensley-Clancy described one instance, for example, where students came across a boy having an asthma attack and tried to heal him through the power of the Holy Spirit before someone finally called an ambulance fifteen minutes later. They then spent the next following days continuing to pray over him at the hospital and reassured his mother that God would do a miracle or even raise her son from the dead should he pass. The boy died four days later, leaving behind a grief-stricken and bitter family.

I relay that story not to condemn the Bethel students, but rather to remind us that when we act as though we are in charge in our relationship with God, the consequences can be dire and negatively impact others in a way we might never fully understand this side of heaven. On the other hand, when we follow the lead of the apostles and of Christ, placing our lives at the disposal of the Father to use and guide according to his will, there is no end to what we can accomplish for the kingdom. God has left it to us, however, to decide how we will approach our walk with him.

Who’s in charge of your relationship with the Lord today?

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Why you need to know about Gracie Gold

Posted by    |    October 18th, 2017 at 5:51 am

You may never have heard of Gracie Gold, but you need to know her story.

Grace Elizabeth Gold is an American figure skater. She began skating at the age of eight, winning a national title and an Olympic bronze medal in 2014. She won another national title in 2016.

The 2018 Winter Olympics are only five months away. At a time when skaters are working feverishly to prepare, Gracie is stepping away from her sport. Her explanation: “I am currently in treatment for depression, anxiety and an eating disorder. I will not have adequate training time to prepare and compete at the level that I want to.”

Gracie’s decision is both rare and courageous. As sportswriter Eric Adelson notes, “Depression, anxiety and eating disorders are almost always confronted in private, and in many cases they aren’t even acknowledged or realized by the person facing them.” This is especially true for Olympic athletes: “There is always another practice or sponsorship meeting or fan greeting to do for this once-in-a-lifetime moment. Often the needs of the self are suppressed or ignored.”

The numbers are staggering: According to the National Institute of Mental Health, 46 percent of Americans experience at least one mental illness at some point in their lives. The CDC reported in 2011 that antidepressant use in the US had increased nearly 400 percent in the last two decades. Antidepressants are the most frequently used class of medications by Americans ages eighteen to forty-four years.

Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, and Winston Churchill were known for significant episodes of depression. Celebrities such as Terry Bradshaw, Owen Wilson, J. K. Rowling, and Gwyneth Paltrow have suffered from depression as well. Astronaut Buzz Aldrin was treated for depression and alcoholism and went on to serve as chairman of the National Association of Mental Health.

What causes depression? Counselors cite neurotransmitters in the brain, negative thinking patterns, concurrence of other diseases, side effects of medication, genetics, and difficult life events. A major step forward is admitting the disease and seeking help. That’s why Gracie Gold’s story is so courageous and so significant.

If you’re dealing with symptoms such as feelings of sadness or hopelessness, anger or irritability, loss of interest, sleep disturbances, tiredness and lack of energy, reduced appetite, slowed thinking, feelings of worthlessness, or frequent or recurrent thoughts of death, it is vital that you speak with a doctor or mental health professional as soon as possible. If you’re not struggling with these challenges, it is vital that you support and encourage those who are.

Where is God when depression strikes? “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit” (Psalm 34:18). He invites you to “cast all your anxieties upon him, because he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7). He promises that “weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes in the morning” (Psalm 30:5).

Remember that “Christ literally walked in our shoes” (Tim Keller) and is walking in yours now (Hebrews 4:15). So, “let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (v. 16).

Max Lucado is right: “God never said that the journey would be easy, but he did say that the arrival would be worthwhile.”

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