Friday, May 29, 2009


Western society worships success, but doesn’t really know what that is. Even if we achieved it, I believe we would not clearly recognize or be wholly satisfied with what we had attained. Somehow, I think, even for Christians, the ‘gospel’ has become so confusingly interwoven with an elusive ‘American Dream’ that many are distracted, striving for illusory goals, rather than trusting the simple, sure mercies of Jesus.
Our humanistic, materialistic, intellectually top-heavy, individual-centred, entertain-me focus has essentially altered our life perspective to the point where we mistakenly equate comfort and pleasure with fulfillment and joy. Consequently, our unsatisfied ‘self’ is never able to truly enjoy the journey. Many achieved the white picket fence and 2-car garage but found that wasn’t enough. So we expanded the dream to 3 cars with a ride-on mower, luxury homes and it’s still not enough! Success is neither winning the lottery nor thinking up the ultimate special effects action movie and calling it life.
Even much of the Christian church seems to have bought into the world’s message with bigger programs, buildings and egos. ‘7-Step How-to Self-help’ books dominate the best-seller lists but Christ said, “Deny your self.” In other words, “Kill it, don’t fix it!” Somehow, it seems we have become more preoccupied with the ways of a world we profess to reach than the Saviour we profess to proclaim. It’s like adoring the ornaments while ignoring the Tree.
The superficial supplants the essential.
The Organization threatens to suffocate the Organism.
If we are honest, we can even catch ourselves singing, “It’s all about me!” rather than truly, “It’s all about You …Jesus!”

The true gospel never validates the world’s status quo. Jesus Christ is and always will be the most radical revolutionary this world has ever known! He alone can change human hearts!

Regardless of how many subtle forms in which sin parades itself, His simple good news will always expose, confound and unmask their essential egoism. The gospel reveals the hypocrisies of political (communism or capitalism) and religious (legalism or license) forms which deny the power of the Cross.
It is not about us. It’s about God… and faith and love towards our neighbour, that is, the guy next to us. “Inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.” (Matt 25:40)
Success really has nothing to do with our twisted egotistical sense of winning, accumulating the most toys, or acquiring the most influence.
Success has everything to do with how we truly treat one another and what we live, give and pass on to others.
Trees are known by their fruit and the seed they pass on to the next season’s generation. Christians are also known by the fruit we produce: good trees = good fruit = good seed = more good trees.
We need to have a vision for harvest beyond ourselves. Unfortunately, many Christians are buying into quick-fix doctrines and escapist end-times fantasies which lead them to selfishly conclude we are earth’s ‘last generation’. These deceptions abrogate our effectiveness to witness the true gospel of Christ to a perishing world and relay this inheritance to the next generations.

Jesus succeeded. He is the true King. He died on the Cross for our sin, rose from the dead for our salvation, destroyed the works of the devil (Heb 2:14), and is now reigning from the throne of the universe. His Kingdom is successfully established and we are called to reign with Him, fill the earth with His glory and successively pass on this inheritance from generation to generation. We must not drop the baton.
We succeed when we effectively relay Christ’s life to those who follow. Jesus is calling us to stand in the gap and pass it on. Successful evangelists do not merely evangelize; they raise, equip and release other evangelists into their calling. Likewise with others of the 5-fold ministry: we only succeed when we release others to proceed in their destiny.
There is no success without a successor.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

‘…with persecutions’ (Mark 10:30)

Our perspective actually sets, interprets and becomes our reality. Preconceived prejudices largely determine what we open or close our eyes, ears, minds and hearts to. Revelation depends greatly on our training to either see or refuse to see. Plain truth and fresh vision might well be right before our eyes, but if we don’t have eyes to see or ears to hear, we’ll overlook, deny or even refuse them. We will miss it, though it might well be right before our eyes! Just ask Pilate. ‘What is truth?’ he asked, and The Way, The Truth and The Life stood right in front of him!

Thomas Jefferson’s prejudice against the supernatural precluded his rejecting both Christ’s divinity and miracles, so he took a pair of scissors and literally cut everything out of his Bible which did not agree with this rationalistic, but foolish, paradigm. Not only was he left with a holy Bible, but his assumptions ripped gaping holes in his overall world perspective.
Western Christians are being trained by culture and circumstances to view life through a lens of consumer-comfortable, self-centred materialist religion. Our culture offers us a line of stylish glasses, more concerned about how well we look (our appearance conformed) than how well we see (our vision transformed). We need Our Father’s New Covenant Son-glasses to see life His way, from His perspective. It 's all about 'The Revelation of Jesus Christ'! We need to focus and see Jesus at the centre on the throne. Only then are we able to see light in darkness, beauty through pain, order in the midst of confusion.
What glasses do you have on?
Conveniently but unfortunately, we have removed much of what the Bible speaks about suffering and persecution from our conscious worldview.
We have learned to quickly read over these verses, giving them polite lip service, but convinced they were for other people of other places or times. In turn, we have been spoiled for the real work of the Spirit and the kingdom of God.
We have been sold fashionable, but deceptive, designer glasses that have skewed our viewing, thinking and living.
We have equated suffering with personal and cultural discomfort and confused attacks of the devil with The Comforter’s efforts to renew us as salt and light. Comfort, personal peace and affluence are the new gods and goals that have supplanted sacrifice and service in our worship. We have virtually exorcised suffering and persecution from our Bible and life consciousness. Our eyes are predisposed to skim over these ‘difficult’ passages and focus on the more feel-good, pleasure-giving portions.
We have ascribed to the creed: If it is uncomfortable, it cannot be God.
We have taken away from God’s Word and diluted the gospel’s power.

For example, a ‘prosperity gospel’ mindset reads Mark 10:30, focuses on ‘houses and lands, hundredfold now in this time’, equates them with wealth + riches, but omits ‘with persecutions’. This set of glasses, either out of denial, ignorance, or blindness assumes this either 'must be a typo,’ or really applied to a different time when Christians were not as enlightened as we are today. But keep reading and you’ll find suffering and persecution virtually everywhere in the Bible and you cannot overlook or deny their value to us also today!
Look at 1Pet 1:11. The Old Testament prophets foresaw, but could not comprehend ‘the sufferings of Christ and the glory that should follow.’ The Pharisees looked for the glory of a future Messiah through their own set of expectations, but Jesus Christ the Messiah did not fit their list, especially the suffering part, so they rejected Him. They read Isaiah 53, but neither received its true meaning nor made the connection that the prophesied Messiah equaled this foretold Suffering Servant present in Jesus Christ. He came to His own and His own did not receive Him (John 1:12). He did not fit their preconceived mindset of who He would be and what He would do! Jesus neither wore their brand of glasses, nor conformed to their predetermined image!
The disciples had the same problem: it took them over two years to realize who Jesus was.
Yes, He was a real man, but the God-man, God in flesh, the Christ, Son of the Living God?
After His identity finally became revelation to them, Jesus started speaking about the next step, His destiny, but again they could not receive it.
‘We are going to Jerusalem; I will be crucified, but I will rise again.’
He clearly outlined the plan to them at least 3 times, but they never understood. When Good Friday came, they could not believe Sunday was coming. Sunday morning came and they were hiding behind locked doors, afraid for their lives. Jesus’ words hadn’t fit their worldview. Their Messiah was supposed to charge into Jerusalem on a white horse, liberate Judea and send the Romans packing! Peter even openly rebuked Jesus about His negative thinking. Every time He brought it up, they changed the subject, either willfully, ignorantly or just plain willfully ignorant. They could not see what He saw. Their glasses distorted, discoloured and blinded their view. Jesus tore the veil away so they could see clearly. Have we sewn it back up again?

How willfully ignorant are you about the next step ahead in your destiny? Are you willing to see, accept and embrace what lies ahead? Can you discern what the enemy means for evil and believe the Lord will turn it for good and a testimony to His greater glory?

Look further at Philippians 1:29: ‘…it has been granted on behalf of Christ, not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for His sake.’ Reading with C20th Western ‘comfort glasses’ automatically stops after ‘believe in him’ and evaporates that last phrase on suffering into unconscious unbelief. However, the Word remains. And its true comfort, if you will receive it, will be there for you when you need it. And rest assured: you will need it if you are serious about following the Master.

Take a further look at another familiar passage: ‘And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony,’ (Rev 12:11ab) Here is a powerful statement of God’s ability to bring victory out of seeming defeat. But that is only a portion of the entire verse and much of our contemporary Church has customized this Scripture by mentally blotting out the last phrase ‘and they did not love their lives to the death.’ Now I know that ‘death’ part is really uncomfortable and theologically, Jesus already died for my sinsand conquered death, so can’t we just skip the suffering part and go right into the glory! Let's just live in the glory, right?

Right! So, why not take the whole Scripture by faith and move into the whole glory, from glory to glory, disregarding our physical comforts' complaints. Our Western Christian mindset wants to serve God, but hesitates at the threshold of truly laying it all down. It’s like everyone wants to go to heaven, but no one wants to die to get there! We can't quite grasp what's really on the other side. Such incomplete views lead only to disappointment and discouragement when reality ultimately sets in.
Rev 12:11c is still in effect today. In fact, if today’s Church really wants to move into the next glory, we will have to count the costs (both what Christ already paid on The Cross and our present responsibilities as disciples) and follow Jesus just as every generation that has desired genuine testimony over mere hypocrisy.

Centuries ago, in the midst of intense, empire-wide persecution, Tertullian, one of our Early Church Fathers, proclaimed: ‘The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church!’
Or, in other words, ‘When the Church is persecuted, it grows!’
It is historical fact that when one Christian died in the arena, ten more were ‘born again’ in the stands. Do the math. Eventually Roman persecution destroyed itself: the true God won more hearts than the idol emperors!
But much of today’s Western church has lost the power and meaning of this revelation.
We have immunized ourselves against suffering and persecution. Comfort and self-preservation have become our underlying creeds and goals (although I’m sure we would not admit that).
We have so sheltered ourselves from real Christianity that it is difficult for us to even recognize, let alone respond to, the real thing when it confronts us.
We are familiar with stories and pictures of martyrs from other periods of Church history, but they seem somehow distant, so ancient to us.
We feel a sentimental tug on our hearts when we hear how they suffered for their faith: thrown to the lions, burnt at stakes, nailed to crosses, flaming human torches for Nero’s garden parties. But that was all back then, wasn't it?
We are ignorant of both suffering’s content (tribulation can really be in God’s will for Christians today - 1Pet 4:19 ‘let those who suffer according to the will of God’) and context in the worldwide Church today. Do you know that more Christians have died for their faith in just this last century than in all previous centuries combined?
Persecution is not a thing of the past, at least not for real Christians in the real world. For many it is a present truth, obstacle and overcoming testimony! Rather than just decry the Western Church’s Laodicean state and its exchange of fire, zeal and passion for religious form and escapist raptures, we need to take steps of faith and obedience to break apathy and reveal true Christian testimony. The kingdom of God is so much better than the seductive American Dream!

Should we then pray for persecution? 2Tim 3:12 clearly answers: ‘All who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.’ We don’t have to pray for persecution.
Simply follow The Master faithfully; the world treats His real disciples like they treated Him. Experiencing reproach for our own sin is not the same as suffering for Jesus (1Pet 2:20). It’s for Christ’s sake, not our own, that yields glory to Him! Live godly in your everyday world like Jesus did (WDJD?), and you will encounter (no, you will create) reaction + opposition. The world will seek to crucify you! The status quo does not like its world turned upside down…. or right side up! Persecution will stalk, follow and find you.
It’s not so much what you do or don’t do: it’s essentially whom you follow, who you carry within, who you are. Desire to live godly ‘in Christ Jesus’ and this new identity will become so clear that, not only will your old ‘self’ be unrecognizable, but the world will recognize and fight against this Christ in you. You will make a difference for Christ and any crisis will be your opportunity to shine. After all, ‘crisis’, essentially 'The Cross in action', only brings out what truly lives within, reveals what we’re made of, and yields fruit to God’s glory.
The Sauls of this world are watching and cannot ignore God’s Stephens. Their deaths are never in vain; they yield Pauls who change nations.

Monday, May 25, 2009

‘.. with persecutions 2’

Part 1 focused on how we need God’s perspective on life’s whole picture. We need to see what and how God sees: the overall view first and then the details. Often we do not see the forest for the trees; we get lost, hung up on the details and miss the whole point. Life seems a mysterious puzzle without any picture on the box. We grope about, trying to connect pieces that won’t fit, sometimes not even sure they belong to our picture! That’s what happened to Eve in the Garden. She got distracted, took her eyes off the centre Tree and lost her focus. Ever since, nothing really fit, but man has been still trying to pick up the pieces. We’ve been eating from the other Tree: out of focus, off balance, blurry-eyed, never satisfied and never able to come to the knowledge of the whole until…
Jesus Christ came and restored the Tree of Life!
In His Light, we can now discern what the enemy means for evil, and work with God to turn it rather for good. When we are ‘looking unto Jesus’, everything else comes into focus and finds its true, full image. Everything must ultimately find its place in Him: either in glory or judgment. When exposed, it must be either changed or consumed, developed or destroyed.
Reveal your whole picture, Lord: a forest of Trees of Life, your kingdom filling us and all the earth!

We can be confident that whatever is centred on Jesus will stand. He builds His Church securely, but not always comfortably, on the Rock. The only Foundation that will stand forever was laid at The Cross: Jesus Christ and Him crucified, who He is and what He has done. True apostles and prophets testify to this alone, build according to His true plumbline (The Word) and do not stray from His clear testimony (The Spirit). Anything more or less will be exposed as such when testing comes and the fires of suffering and persecution reveal the building’s true nature. Wood, hay and stubble are consumed; gold, silver and living stones manifest His Temple’s glory. Wise masterbuilders build accordingly. They do not fear or deny the tests, sufferings and persecutions which come. They welcome them as bringing the whole picture into clearer testimony, touching others, even entire nations, for the faith. True apostles with such vision are rare these days.

But we had such a man stay with us in our home about 20 years ago: a true apostle, not an ego-tripping, looking-for-position-to-validate-his-identity-wannabe. Prem Pradhan was the real thing and having him in our church and home felt like having the Apostle Paul right with us. Prem came from Nepal, a strictly Hindu-Buddhist kingdom tucked in the Himalaya Mountains between India and China. A generation ago, Nepal had no known Christians. Prem served in the Indian army during WWII with the British Air Force and was shot down and wounded. He walked with a noticeable limp from that injury for the rest of his life. In early 1950’s northern India, Prem, about 30 years old, heard a disciple of Bakht Singh proclaim, “It is appointed unto man once to die, and after that the judgment.” (Heb 9:27) It was a strange message for his Hindu understanding and he wondered how he could avoid that judgment. He asked the street preacher, who then challenged him to read the New Testament – 6 times! Prem did. During his reading, he gave his life to Jesus and God called him to go back to his country and preach the gospel that had saved him. Like Moses, Prem at first objected.
“I am a cripple,” he argued, “how can I walk up and down mountains?
And I don’t know all the different languages to reach all those isolated villages!
I can’t hike and I can’t speak. Call someone else.” But God would not relent.

One more problem: in Nepal at that time, it was illegal to not only preach, but merely to be a Christian! An automatic 1-year prison sentence if a person changed religions, especially if they became Christian. For the more extreme: 3 yrs in jail for preaching, 6 if you were caught baptizing converts! Sure enough, after he returned to his country, it only took a short time and Prem was in trouble with the authorities. A paralyzed woman was healed when Prem prayed for her and the miracle so stirred the town that many turned to Christ, even the local Buddhist lama! Prem wrote and invited the local authorities to the new believers’ open baptism. “Jesus suffered openly for us,” he taught. “We must be willing to suffer openly for Him.” The enraged authorities arrested the believers and threw Prem in jail. But they murdered the lama.
Prem languished in a dungeon of death. No ventilation in summer, no heat in winter. Sanitation facilities were non-existent, biting insects everywhere! Rehabilitation was not the goal of Nepalese jails. Prisoners were given bare survival rations of only one cup of rice per day to cook over their own little fires. Without help from relatives, many soon died.
He had done no harm; he was there just for who he was!

Prem was discouraged. “Lord, you saved me with a purpose: to preach the gospel to my nation. How can I do this when I’m stuck here in this filthy prison?” He first saw only filthy prisoners, but as he looked around, he noted that many were from outside his local area. He saw that the Lord had brought his mountain mission field to him! One by one, he started to minister to them naturally and spiritually, showing Christ’s love in this inside-the-prison Training Centre and one by one, he led them to Jesus. Eventually, on their release, they returned to their homes filled with Christ, shared their new faith and love with their families and friends, and started churches in their villages. God’s plan for evangelizing Nepal was different from what Prem had first envisioned: prison ministry with a twist! Soon churches began to spring up over the entire nation, more quickly and effectively than Prem could have ever done in his own way!
Then Satan’s persecution tactics changed. The prison warden grew very angry with Prem.
“Prem,” he said, “you must stop sharing your faith. After all, that’s why you’re here in prison! You must obey me!”
Prem responded like the early apostles: “I must first obey God in my life, in prison or out.”
The warden gave up in frustration and moved Prem to another prison. Prem saw the hand of God in this too: he had already finished evangelizing this prison; he was now ready for a new field to sow more gospel seed in other needy hearts!
Between 1960 and 1975, Prem spent 10 years in 14 different prisons!
Once his sentence was 20,000 days – 54 years! and his release came only when Western friends intervened and paid a ransom of 1 rupee per day, equivalent to $2000.

The only charge they could find against Prem was being a Christian. I wonder: if you were arrested for being a Christian, would the authorities find enough evidence to convict you?

At one point, Maoist political prisoners overcame the guards and ran for freedom. The gates were open, everyone was running and Prem found himself also running with them, caught up in the excitement. However, when he reached the gate, an invisible wall suddenly prevented him from running further.
He heard Holy Spirit say, “If you cross through that gate and run for your freedom, you will have to keep running all the way to India and you will never be able to return to your country. Then you will never be free to fulfill your destiny and my call on your life.”
Prem stopped immediately, transfixed at an invisible line, unable to move.
Other prisoners rushed past him, shouting, ‘Come! This is our chance!’
But Prem stood there.
Still others shouted, “Hurry, Prem! Don’t lose this opportunity. Be free! Don’t be a fool!”
Incredibly, he remained standing. All the others escaped and within a few minutes, army reinforcements arrived to restore order. All the prisoners were gone, except one: Prem. The soldiers stared at their lone prisoner, standing in the courtyard all by himself, freedom’s gate still open before him.
“Why are you still here?” they wondered in amazement. “Why didn’t you go with the others when you had your chance?”
Prem replied, “Do you really want to know?”
Little did they know what they were in for when they responded, “Yes, why?” and Prem proceeded to share Christ with them all. He had earned the right to share ‘the reason for the hope that was in him’ and now also reaped the harvest.

God eventually opened many doors for this man who would not just run through any.
He knew that when God opened a door, no man could shut it, but when man tries to open what God has shut, his efforts are in vain. During different interludes between prison sentences, Prem returned to his home village, where he continued sharing his faith and love for Jesus. Problems plagued Nepal: sickness, poverty and ignorance were rife and the traditional Hindu-Buddhist religions were unable to bring healing, life or light. The Light of Christ shone in thick darkness, and many were touched, even without their full understanding.
His village Hindu + Buddhist leaders could not agree on their local government council; the two sides were always fighting. So rather than choose a leader from either camp whom neither could trust, they asked Prem the Christian to serve as their mayor! They knew they could trust Prem. God has an ironic sense of humour: an illegal Christian became mayor of a Hindu/Buddhist town! God’s favour shone through Prem and he served in this capacity for many years, also founding orphanages and schools to care for his people. Even the King of Nepal heard of his humanitarian and educational work and presented him with a special Social Service Medal of Honour!

However, others became envious and conspired all the more against Prem. He found himself again in prison, under the watch of a very evil warden who hated him with a passion. He determined to do away with Prem and put him in an unimaginably horrible situation: a dungeon filled with prisoners’ dead bodies awaiting their families’ retrieval for cremation. No room to stand up or lie down, no food, no water, no light, but lots of lice! Chained hand and foot, in complete darkness with only the company of rats and disease-infested, rotting corpses! Imagine being in such a hell-hole! He survived only by scraping what little moisture he could from the dank walls and bread crumbs that other prisoners generously snuck through the cracks between the massive door and stone floor. Days passed into weeks, but Prem’s courage grew. When he closed his eyes, he could envision pages of his Nepali New Testament. That’s how he read and prayed.
One day the guard outside heard him praying out loud.
“Who are you talking to?” the guard asked.
“Jesus,” Prem replied.
“I’m on guard. No one gets by me! How’d he get in there?”
“Well, He’s here.”
The guard opened the door and shined in his light.’ “I don’t see Jesus,” he said.
“You won’t find Him that way,” Prem said. “Let me tell you how you can find Him.”
The guard squatted on the threshold and Prem led him to the Lord.

Weeks passed in this chamber and eventually Prem despaired for his life. He could not see how God would call him to preach to his nation, but have it end in this dungeon of death. It seemed all hope was gone and both the natural and spiritual darkness were overwhelming him. But just when Prem was at the end of his rope, suddenly a supernatural light appeared on the wall:
a glowing Cross radiated Christ’s presence, power and life.
Prem heard His Saviour’s voice, “Don’t be afraid, Prem! Don’t lose hope! You will preach the gospel in your own nation, and beyond, to other nations around the world!”
Shortly thereafter, the warden opened the door, fully expecting to find only Prem’s collapsed, wasted corpse. However, to his complete amazement, Prem walked out of the darkness and stood before him: a testimony of perfect health!
“But… how can this be?” he stammered. “I threw you among all those rotting bodies, without food or water for all these days, and now, rather than dead, you look more alive than when I threw you in! How can this be?”
“Do you really want to know?” Prem coolly replied.

About 10 years ago, we heard that Prem went home to be with Jesus. He fought the good fight, ran his course and passed the baton to his Timothy, Sundar Thapa. Sundar, who now leads this growing fellowship of over 400 churches, a Bible Training Centre, schools and orphanages, has also visited us since. Nepal has gone through revolution: both political and spiritual. One of their princes massacred 10 of his own royal family a few years ago, sending shock waves through a once invincible traditional ruling hierarchy. Today, Maoist communists control a parliament trying to govern a bitterly divided nation. The traditional religions have lost much of their respect and control, but Christ’s Church has multiplied throughout the land. Where there were once no known Christians 60 years ago, now hundreds of thousands (some estimate up to 1 million!) follow Christ and fill the streets of Kathmandu in Jesus Marches, witnessing and proclaiming the gospel!

How can this be? In such a short time!
We in the West find it difficult to recognize, let alone, experience true revival.
The Western Church is caught in a snare of competing forms, programs and experiences, enticed by distractions, building our own ministries, churches and kingdoms to the detriment of His. Self-centred materialism, entertainment, endtimes fallacies, politics and other fleshly pursuits have taken our focus off Jesus.
We have lost His power to do what He has called us to do because we are no longer what He has called us to be! We have chosen to go to church rather than be it!
We’ve read and interpreted the Scripture according to our own comfort zones, taken the popular parts like ‘they overcame by the blood + word of testimony’ but deleted the equally important ‘loved not their lives to the death’.
We’ve cut out the uncomfortable parts like ‘suffering’ and ‘with persecutions’ because our self-centred focus does not comprehend ‘for my sake and the gospel’.
Our Western church has lived off a legacy from previous generations, but the time has come for our generation to ‘fill up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ’ (Col 1:24).
We don’t have to pray for persecution: live truly godly and persecution will come.
The emerging 3rd World Church does not need what we have; we need who they are!
We’ve been spoiled! We need to return to our roots in the simplicity of Christ. (2Cor 11:3-4)
We need to repent of our fabrications of new, improved gospels; they are nothing more than hyped-up manipulations!
The true gospel is simple and it works! Christ died, buried, resurrected, seated on the throne, ruling and reigning NOW! His kingdom filling the earth…first to hungry and thirsty individuals, then to the fields around us….multitudes!

I sense the frustration and questions out there: you are tired of old forms, regurgitated Old Testament theology dressed in empty New Testament terms, programs lacking the life and power of the Living God!
How did we ever get so far away from that simple experience of Christ’s faith and love in action that first won our hearts?
‘Having begun in the Spirit are you now going to be made perfect by the flesh?’ (Gal 3:3)
How can this be?
Like Prem standing before both the astonished guards and warden, I see the body of Christ rising up, overcoming …even ‘with persecutions,’ challenging those yet in darkness,
“Do you really want to know?”