Last week I tweeted a link to the statement of imprisoned Chinese church leader Wang Yi’s church. You can read it here.
In brief, Wang Yi is the pastor of an underground church in China, Early Rain Covenant Church. Pastor Wang and 100 of his fellow believers were arrested by the Chinese government about one year ago. Now, Wang has been sentenced to nine years in prison for subversion of state power and illegal business operations.
What I love about this statement is how it emphasizes things that we wouldn’t emphasize if we are being persecuted. The statement is written by a people who know what it means to suffer and how to do it well. It’s a model for how us as Christians should handle suffering as it becomes more and more normal to suffer for Christ in the West.
Here are just a few thoughts from the letter that I think Western Christians can learn from:
- “Christians should be willing to submit to the government’s physical restrictions of them.” What’s refreshing about this take is that Christians in America often get caught in a kind of antagonism where if we are jailed or even lightly rebuked for sharing the Gospel, we want to demand our rights. The apostle Peter tells us to submit to civil authority and to bear up under the pressure of suffering, even though we’ve done nothing wrong (see 1 Peter 2:13-20).
- Pastor Wang’s arrest is part of his calling. In the West, we often take on titles and positions as an antidote to suffering. We give difficult, arduous tasks to those who are farther down the “ministry ladder” than we are. However, Pastor Wang and his church understand suffering as a normal part of his calling. 1 Peter 2:20 tells us that we are called to follow Jesus into the same type of suffering he endured. We are called to suffering, especially as a servant of the Gospel. So OF COURSE he’s suffering. He’s responded to God’s call on his life. May we understand again that our calling is not what’s written on a business card, but to literally follow the footsteps of Christ, whichi includes suffering as He did.
- No crimes were committed. In a free society, Yi would not be jailed for his actions. I find this part of the statement interesting, mostly because I believe this to be an effort of the church to earn credibility with the Chinese people and people around the world. In arguing that he has not committed a crime, the church is defending his morality and trying to earn rapport with the rest of the world. Peter tells us it’s better to keep our integrity and suffer rather than to suffer for committing and actual crime (1 Peter 3:16-17) and the church seems to be making a case that this is what happened.
- No hate, just evangelistic love. After some exhortations of the Chinese government to “stay in their lane,” the church calls on believers to pray for the salvation of the Chinese government. This is so crucial. Many would be tempted to pray down God’s judgment, but the church is following in Jesus’ steps and saying “Father, forgive them, they don’t know what they do,” (Luke 23:24). It’s this kind of heart cry that will open the hearts of unjust persecutors to the truth of the Gospel and save some of them.
Imagine this-the church in America can learn to suffer for the glory of God. We can learn to submit to government authority and still obey God. We can embrace suffering as part of our calling and maintain our integrity. We can even pray for those who persecute us to find the light and the truth. We have no better teacher in this than our brothers and sisters in China and other parts of the world.
We just need to be willing to learn from them.
Picture yourself alongside the apostle Paul. There you are in a dark, miserable prison. Rats are plentiful. The smell of human waste is everywhere. You have no idea when you’re going to be released. You’ve been faithful to Jesus to share the good news of the gospel with many in the city of Philippi and because of that, you’ve had handcuffs slapped on your wrists and you were thrown into this prison.
Then, Paul leans over to you. You don’t necessarily expect Paul to gripe and complain, but you weren’t prepared for what he said next: “Brother, I know it’s late. I know we’ve just been beaten and the rats are starting to nip at us, but we should start praising the Lord.”
In that moment, what would your reaction be?
Now, I’m not going to sit here and tell you that I would just jump right in singing and praising God like Silas did. Your reaction to that statement tells a lot about what you believe God deserves praise for. Paul had learned something that others before Him learned: We don’t just praise God because circumstances are going well. We praise Him because of who He is.
In this way, praise is a discipline. We don’t just wake up one morning desiring to praise God in the darkest and most bitter circumstances. What’s more likely is that we begin every day to delight in God for who He is and what He’s done for us in whatever circumstance we find ourselves in. *This allows us to praise Him no matter the circumstances.*
Listen to David:
“I will rejoice and be glad in Your lovingkindness,
Because You have seen my affliction;
You have known the troubles of my soul,” (Psalm 31:7)
“Sing for joy in the Lord, O you righteous ones;
Praise is becoming to the upright,” (Psalm 33:1)
“I will bless the Lord at all times;
His praise shall continually be in my mouth,” (Psalm 34:1).
All of these point to David calling us to make a decision, based on who God is, to offer praise. None of these commands are based on the circumstances going on around him or us. In fact, some of them call us to praise in spite of the circumstances.
Beloved, we must get better at praising God for *WHO* He is, despite our circumstances. It’s the only practice that will get us to the place where we praise God in the prison. We want to be the people whose spirits are so alive with God that despite the gruesomeness around us we still love God.
We don’t get there in a minute. We get there day by day, praising God where we are at right now.
Some of you aren’t good at sharing your faith. You are fearful. You have a hard to bringing up Jesus in conversations. When you do,it’s muddled.
I understand. I’ve been there.
There are two things that I think every believer should understand about sharing their faith.
The first is that, with some exceptions, most of you were the best at sharing your faith when you knew the least about Jesus, Christianity, and theology. It was your fresh love for Jesus and the wonder of being saved at all that motivated you to tell your friends, co-workers, anyone who would listen about how great Jesus is. Did you lose that? If you did, it’s time to get it back. Growing in Jesus shouldn’t take away the wonder. If you grew away from the wonder of Jesus, maybe you grew in the wrong direction.
The other thing is that growing in sharing the good news takes time. Don’t get frustrated if the first, second, and third times don’t go well. Press on. Sharing your faith is a muscle you strengthen over time. You don’t set a resolution on New Year’s Eve to get in shape and wake up on January 2nd with a ripped body. You set a goal, work towards it, and slowly see improvement. John Wimber used to say you couldn’t say God didn’t heal today until you prayed for 100 people and nothing happened. I would submit to you that you can’t say you’re not good at evangelism until you shared the Gospel 100 times and nothing happens. In the mean time, pray, get closer to Jesus, get around some people who will support you in this journey. You will get better.
I’ve been doing this for the last couple of years, and finally, after a lot of ups and downs, I’m starting to get good at sharing the Gospel. No one’s come to faith (yet), but I’m somewhat regularly sharing in a way that I know connects to the hearts of people around me.
You can, too, if you don’t give up.
Yesterday was our “All House Church Meeting.”
It normally is the one time a month where our house churches gather together for a more concrete time preaching, worship, and vision casting.
I had a message to share that fit within those lines. It didn’t get shared yesterday.
Instead, when we gathered, everyone was catching up. The holidays were long and relationships needed some time to reconnect. Then, the news of a brother who was part of on of our house churches passing away had to be talked through. Next, an extended time of worship came and it was more participatory than normal. This is a good thing.
When worship was over, we talked over our network’s support of a house church network in Uganda and how we will handle finances with that. Then we talked over an upcoming time of fasting and prayer we hope to have. Then we prayed for those affected by the passing of our friend and those who needed healing. Then the pizza arrived and the kids could not be held back any longer.
So, no, we never got to the message.
We did sing the word back and forth to each other. We did live out the word in our care for one another. We did call each other to biblical financial principals and plan a way to increase our faithfulness. And we did pray for those who are sick and in need, like the Bible commands us to.
It’s rare for us not open the Bible when we gather, but if you had your eyes open, you might have watched a sermon in progress.
For those of you who don’t know, six months ago my wife and I welcomed our fifth biological kiddo into our lives. Korah Grace was born to us happy and healthy. Needless to say, I’ve been pulling a lot of extra hours being dad lately.
A few days ago I was holding Korah with my big Bible sitting on the arm of the chair next to me. She, with her six-month-old eyes and perception of reality reached out towards the Bible expecting to easily stuff the Bible in her mouth, only to find out that it was much bigger and heavier than she had originally thought. It wouldn’t just move under the weight of her little arms.
As I sat and watched her explore the world with her six-month-old senses, I realized that you and I aren’t so different from my daughter. We believe that we are much bigger than we really are. We think big truths (like the Bible) are able to be manipulated easily. It’s not until we try to manipulate them that we realize there is much more substance to them than our senses and perception of reality allow us to understand.
Wisdom comes when we realize we see in this age dimly. We don’t see the substance in spiritual truth like we need to. We believe we can manipulate it easily, when really if we had eyes to see, there’s so much more weight and gravity to God’s truth. It’s real and won’t move under our strength.
This is what my daughter has been teaching me lately.
I’m not the guy who gives words for the New Year. I usually think that things like this are things men dream up rather than actually hear from Jesus.
So when my 11 year old son gave a short prayer before our New Year’s Eve gathering, I was a little taken aback. Normally those kind of prayers are short and help move us along to dinner. We have a rule in our house churches: “No warring over the nations before dinner.”
So when Joel prayed, “Lord, make this a faithful and fruitful new year…” in the midst of blessing the food, I was taken aback. He doesn’t normally pray like that.
Especially before meals.
So, may I commend to you this prayer (and prophetic word) for 2020. May it be a faithful and fruitful year. May you stay the course on the things the Lord has called you to. May God reward you with seeing the fruit of that faithfulness.
It’s that time of the year when everyone reveals their yearly reading list and what they consider their top reads of the year. Not to be left out, I’ve compiled my own list to help those who are looking for good reads for next year’s list. So, with no further ado, here’s the best of the best:
Joan: The Mysterious Life of The Heretic Who Became a Saint
This is the story about a young girl who begins to have visions of angels and hear voices. The voices tell her to unite the French to oppose the occupying English forces and anoint a man King of France. She does all of this as a young maiden in 15th Century France and is later tried and killed by the very country she saved. What I love about this book is the author treats her visions and voices as something that she actually heard and saw, rather than trying to explain them away. This book will be a great encouragement to you in your own journey of hearing the Lord’s voice and obeying it, despite the cost.
The Practice of the Love of Jesus Christ
This is an obscure little book written by Catholic priest Saint Alphonsus Ligouri. The whole book is a journey through 1st Corinthians 13. It takes every virtue of love (“Love is patient, love is kind, etc.) and applies them to how a believer should faithfully love Jesus Christ. While it was written by a Catholic and you have to ignore some of his admonitions to pray to Mary and accept sickness as God’s will, there is a lot of wisdom in this book that you won’t find in the traditional Christian book being rolled out these days. This book will stir your heart to love Jesus more.
The Christian Book of Mystical Verse
This is a short book by A.W. Tozer that is filled with poetry written by some of the great Christian mystics throughout history. While that may scare some people, the fact that A.W. Tozer edited this compilation should put your heart at ease. Each of these poems are biblicaly solid while at the same time full of the kind thirsting after God that you’ve come to expect from a guy like A.W. Tozer. I found myself keeping a list of the poems I loved from this book, but I didn’t expect the list to include every third poem. Please read this book, take time to soak in the poetry within, and even spend some time turning some of these great works into prayer to aid your devotional life.
This was the second or third book about evangelism I read this year and it was easily the best. Jean is a prophetic minister who regularly hears from Jesus and shares His heart with lost people around her. Not only did I learn about hearing from Jesus and sharing what I’m hearing with the lost by reading this book, but I encountered the love of Jesus as I read the author’s testimony. I highly recommend picking up the audio book. There is an incredibly personal story towards the end of the book that the author narrates herself and it’s incredibly worthwhile to hear it in her own voice. If hearing from God is new to you or you’re old-hat at it, you will meet Jesus in a more personal way by reading this book.
This was the most disturbing, difficult read of 2019 for me. I’ve never read this book before it showed up on my Man Book Club reading list. This is a story about a dystopian future where three governments rule the world and keep those three nations in perpetual war. The story follows Winston Smith as he tries to navigate life living in this world where every activity is constantly monitored and history is constantly changed to reflect the governments’ narratives. I won’t ruin the ending, but it’s dark and unexpected. Truthfully, the book is a prophetic glimpse into a world that we are now living in and if you don’t leave this book rethinking where society has gone, you probably weren’t paying attention.
This book takes place 100 or more years in the future, where books are banned and society has adapted the role of firefighter as a force to find and burn them. Guy Montag, a fire fighter, secretly becomes a reader and must hide it from those he works with in order to not be killed. The real point of the book is to force us to look at our inability to handle concrete arguments and emotions that books present us and where it could drive our society. This book is slightly more hopeful than 1984 and there are important lessons in it that will help us today. Maybe give yourself some space between reading this and 1984, though.
The Cost of Discipleship
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German Nazi-resisting theologian, wrote this work believing that the time had come for believers to band together and practice living out the Sermon on the Mount together. This was a revolutionary statement in a time when many considered the Sermon on the Mount the code of conduct for the Millennial Kingdom, not something that applied to them now. The book begins with a look at cheap grace–a kind of grace where we can sin because we know we are forgiven–and how it prevents Christianity from being expressed the way Jesus wants it to be expressed. Bonhoeffer then walks us through each chapter of the Sermon on the Mount, detailing how it applies to every day believers. I recommend this book to everyone (it’s a classic!) but I especially recommend it to those who haven’t thought seriously about the Sermon on the Mount.
The Storm-Tossed Family
The family is under attack today by satanic forces. That sounds dramatic, but a quick look at the state of families around you will prove that statement true. Russel Moore writes, then, about cultivating healthy family as an act of spiritual warfare. To win the war, one he finds in the early stages of marriage all the way up to aging and dying with grace, it requires us to find the Gospel for every stage of family life. I loved that at every stage, he calls believers in Jesus to find the Gospel as the answer for common and extreme problems that plague the family. Also, though this is a book about the family, there is plenty in this book for singles to learn from and grow in practice. Some of the best explanations about the church as family that I’ve seen in a while were found in this book. I highly recommend it.
The Master Plan of Evangelism and Discipleship
This book is a classic. You can’t go anywhere in American Evangelicalism without encountering someone whose thoughts have been impacted by this book. What I found interesting is that so much of the house church movement’s thinking finds its origin and support in the discipleship principles laid out here. The key to effective evangelism is found in sharing the Gospel and training up converts in a way of life that leads them to do the same. Without this plan in place, both our evangelism and our churches will suffer. If you haven’t read this book, I highly recommend it.
A Tale of Two Cities
This is one of those classic books that everyone talks about but I feel like very few people read. It contrasts two cities, London and Paris, as the country of France is going through a revolution. It centers around a girl named Lucy who’s father was imprisoned when she was very young. When she is grown, she finds out her father is still alive and is charged with caring for him. During this season she falls in love with a French man who has connections to a former ruling family in France. Like many of Dickens’ works, there is a large Gospel thread woven through the whole story. Finishing this book felt both like a great accomplishment and the end to a marvelous story. If you’re looking for some fiction with some meat on it, this is the book for you.
And in case you’re interested….here all the other books I read this year with my rating for them in parentheses:
The Practice of the Love of Jesus Christ (5) / Evangelism in a Skeptical World (4) / Atomic Marriage (1) / Prophetic Fishing (5)
Poke the Box (5) / A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court (5) / Evangelism: How the Whole Church Speaks of Jesus (3) / Fahrenheit 451 (5) / 1984 (5) / Trump, 2019, and Beyond (3)
The Art of Invisibility (3) / The Master Plan of Evangelism and Discipleship (5) / Raising Giant Killers (4) / Beyond the Local Church (3)
A Tale of Two Cities (5) / Gospel Boldness: Mission, Prayer, and Evangelism (3) / Sharing Jesus Without Freaking Out (4) / Disruptive Witness (2) / Spirit Led Evangelism (4) / Managing Oneself (4) / The Mystery of Catastrophe (4) / I see A New Apostolic Generation (4)
The Religious Affections (4) / Rising Tides (4) / God is Good (2) / The Three Day Effect (3) / Hope Never Dies (3) / Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God (4) / Giving Up Control (4) / Anonymous: Jesus’ Hidden Years and Yours (4) / The Dispatcher (4) / Out of the Salt Shaker and Into the World (4)
The Cost of Discipleship (5) / The Consolation of Philosophy (3) / The Seven Spirits of God (5) / Getting Things Done (4) / To Be Near Unto God (3)
The Poverty of Nations (4) / Screwball (3) / From Cocaine to Christ (3) / The Man Who Knew the Way to the Moon (4) / The Lost History of Christianity (3) / The Fuel and the Flame (4)
12 Rules for Life (4) / Wally Roux, Quantum Mechanic (3) / Redshirts (4)
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (4) / Journey to the Center of the Earth (3) / Godology (3) / The Charisma Myth (4) / The Joy of Early Christianity (4) / Grace Abounds to the Chiefest of Sinners (4)
Joan: The Mysterious Life of a Heretic Who Became a Saint (5) / Balaam’s God (4) / One Bloody Road (4) / Seeing in the Spirit Made Simple (4) / Burnout Generation (3) / Divine Healing Made Simple (4) / Reaching the Unreached: Becoming Raiders of the Lost Art (4)
Mostly Harmless (4) / Climbing with Mollie (4) / Microchurches (4) / Not the Parable of the Lost Sheep (4) / Fox’s Book of Martyrs (3)
The Communist Manifesto (2) / The Storm-Tossed Family (5) / Bird by Bird (4) / Called Together (4) / Do More Better (3) / A Preface to the Acts of the Apostles (3) / The Christian Book of Mystic Verse (5) / Dietrich Bonhoeffer: The Spoke in the Wheel (3)
So…what’d you read this last year? And what did you love? Let me know in the comments.