A Strange Word of Praise

And of the rest durst no man join himself to them: but the people magnified them (Acts 4:13).

In the twenty-first century, few words would be more insulting to a church than, “And of the rest durst no man join himself to them.” We have become obsessed with having a large crowd at the church that we are often blind to the clear praise that God gave to the first church in Jerusalem. For sure, this church did not lack a crowd (Acts 2:41; 4:4). And though God does point out the many people that He added to the church, He also praised them because people didn’t join their ranks. How clearly this demonstrates just how much different God’s perspective of a church is from ours. We would do well to take a lesson.

There are churches that obsess about the number of people in attendance. They are willing to do almost anything to get more. There are other churches that take pride in the fact that people won’t come, as a kind of badge or proof of their spiritual prowess. This church in Jerusalem was like neither.

Paradoxically, the church at Jerusalem had both large numbers and people afraid to join them. So, what’s the key here? The key is found in verse 14—believers joined them.

And believers were the more added to the Lord, multitudes both of men and women.

The contrast between verse 13 and 14 is stark—and so helpful. Consider all the good things that the apostles and christians were doing to the people of their communities. Verse 16 tells us that they were healing every one that came to them. There was great reason for the words in the latter part of verse 13: “…but the people magnified them.” So, interestingly enough, many people around them who were not a part of the church; that is, they weren’t believers; sang the praises of these christians. Yet they did not join them.

There might have been a number of reasons why these people did not join themselves with the christians. One might have been persecution. The threat of persecution (by “persecution” I am referring to suffering in any form as a result of one’s faith) is a strong resistance to people trusting in Jesus. Here in Cambodia, even before a person trusts in Christ they often become the targets of nasty words, threats, and mockery. This often serves to cool the person’s interest before they are saved. It’s sad, but true.

Last Sunday, a lady in our church brought her sister-in-law to church, who is not a christian. After the service was over (which I later learned was spot on that sister-in-law), the lady in our church asked her sister-in-law to hold her Bible. She refused, saying she didn’t want someone to think she was a christian. That might seem like slight, yet it has a familiar ring, reminescent of Acts 5:13.

Another reason that people did not join themselves with the church in Jerusalem might have been that they did not believe. Society lauded the holiness, good works, and uprightness of the church, but just didn’t believe in the Lord Jesus. This happens regularly here in Cambodia. People that do not believe praise the christians they know, but they themselves don’t care to join in. It just costs too much. Yet another reason might be the strictness of our faith. Just recently I have heard complaints from non-christians that God requires repentance from false gods and 100% faith in Christ alone. That is strict and exclusive, yet it is absolutely true. For at least these reasons, they didn’t dare (“durst” is a form of “dare”) join with the believers in Christ.

It is fascinating that at the church at Jerusalem, for all the high praises they received from society, unbelievers didn’t typically join them. The ones who joined them were believers. For the unbelievers, the persecution was too strong, the message to strict. For the believers, however, those who dared not join with them before found themselves happily seeking them out that blessed group of God’s people.

Should it be our goal in the twenty-first century to get as many unbelievers into our churches as possible? Should we tailor our styles or customize our message in an effort to draw unbelievers in? Is the church not primarily for believers? This is plainly evident in verses 13 and 14. As the church of the living God, our primary concern should be to honor God in our church meetings and our personal lives. Towards the lost, we should love supernaturally, call unceasingly, and pray fervently. But at the same time, we should have a church that exhibits such dedication to the holy God of the Bible and His word, that people dare not join our ranks; that is, they dare not join us until they have come to know that great God and Savior Jesus Christ. I think the question must be asked: are people that know not God comfortable in your church? Are they “cool with” your faith? If that’s the case, or if that’s your goal, you are in woeful disagreement with the church that God praised in Jerusalem.

We need churches of such quality that those who don’t know God are uncomfortable with our love, loyalty, and dedication to Jesus Christ and His word! We need churches of such stature that the clear teaching of God’s word is such that those without God can’t just hide out to sit and listen. But oh the joy when those who avoided us and our Savior come looking for His people in His church after they have found Him that is altogether lovely and worthy!

Author: Adam | July 2nd, 2014

On Christian Millennials—From a Millennial

Millennials on their Devices

I recently received an article through several of my social media “orifices,” an article which caused a dual reaction in my heart. The article is “Things that Discourage Millennial Christian Leaders” by Brother Cary Schmidt at Encouraging Words. In summary, the article is basically a summary of Brother Schmidt’s take on the millennial generation (the generation born roughly between 1980 and 2000). As I read, I found myself both commending and challenging some of his major and minor points. I would like to submit my take on the millennial generation.

I am a millennial. I was born in 1981. I have almost every type of social media account and use them regularly. I have a smart phone. To my knowledge, except in jest, I have never used terms such as “movie house,” “honky-tonk,” “bull-fightin’ britches,” or other terms of a previous era. I say this tongue-and-cheek only to point out that my family and I are not outsiders. We are insiders. Many of my closest friends on earth are of this generation. I love this generation and believe it has great potential. It must, for it is the generation that will make up God’s servants in the first part of the 21st century. Yet in all honesty, what I see of my own Christian millennial generation is often discouraging.

It’s not all bad, though. I like the Christian millennial’s willingness to challenge others to prove their views from the Scripture. I like the millennial’s willingness and eagerness to try new things and be innovative. I like the millennial’s aversion for camps, clubs, cliques, schools and the often slavish loyalty to institutions that have long-since departed from the loyalist’s own beliefs. Like the millennials, the generation before us has many reasons for commendation, and some reasons for critique. There were and are some in the previous generation that had what I would consider (remember, I am a millennial) undeserved loyalties to schools or groups. There are some in the previous generation that practice shoot-from-the-hip dogma with little proof or explanation of their positions outside of tradition. Millennial Christian leaders are adept at pointing these things out and using them as grounds to ride the pendulum the other direction, while not noticing the religious whoppers that they themselves have swallowed without the same cynicism that they gave to the previous generation (think “God doesn’t care what kind of music I listen to,” or “It only matters what’s in my heart”).

I have also found in Christian millennials, and yes, even church leaders, some nasty little foxes that are now serving a catalysts to bring about changes that are not positive. And these foxes are actually serving to allow the changes to go virtually unchallenged, because of a lack of self-cynicism. So, here is a view of Christian millennials and the leaders among us from a millennial.

1. Christian millennials fear rejection and ostracizing by the culture in which they live. They seem to be terrified of being labeled “irrelevant,” “out-dated,” odd or “Pharisaical,” whether is it merited or not. Let’s be clear: the culture in which we now live is wicked. It is becoming more and more wicked each year that passes. We should not be worried what our “culture” thinks of the way we follow God’s Word and will. I can understand making the Gospel and Bible teaching as applicable to the audience as possible. However, the fear of rejection by “the culture” in the heart of a Christian leader is debilitating and will often lead to decisions that are not in accordance with the Scripture or to decisions in which God’s Word was not seriously consulted at all. That, I’m afraid is the root of this problem. I am persuaded that fear of man (Proverbs 29:25) clouds the objectivity of the millennial and taints his judgment. I have seen this first hand in my own family members who are not Christians, how a lack of uprightness and “differentness” of a Christian (with a pure doctrinal statement) led to a dismissal of the Gospel by my family members. This is a serious problem with serious repercussions. We must accept that faithfulness to God will mean ostracizing and mockery by “the culture” (2 Timothy 3:12).

2. Christian millennials are averse to playing it safe in matters that are unclear. With the rights-culture permeating the West, millennials feel that their mere question of a matter is grounds for action or change. They are keen on pointing out matters in ministry that are gray. But, rather than play it safe in the gray area (that is, an area that they themselves say is unclear) they take the ambiguity as a kind of license to do it, then defend their actions in this gray area vigorously from all attacks of the “traditionalists.” “This is a gray area. It doesn’t have anything to do with doctrine,” is often the refrain. If it is a gray area indeed, then shouldn’t Romans 14, verses 15-16 be as closely and prayerfully regarded as verses 5 and 10 are? Faithfulness to the Scripture demands that clear Scripture be contended for; Christian charity demands that ambiguity be ruled by love for your brother. It works both ways.

At this point I want to challenge an assertion that is often presented when gray areas are brought up. To put it briefly, many millennials (and non-millennials) define a gray area as a “non-doctrinal issue.” They also often narrowly define “doctrine” as a list of beliefs that are enumerated on a doctrinal statement. In this way, almost all contentious matters can be relegated to one’s preference in style, as if the Scripture never addresses the practice of our obedience. Once doctrine is defined thus, in practice almost everything outside of the doctrinal statement can be purely preferential. Therefore, any argument or criticism can always be labeled as judgmental. I know it sounds like I am just speaking in generalities, but I have heard this very idea in use many, many times. This narrow understanding of doctrine is unknown to Scripture. “Doctrine” in the Bible merely refers to the body of what a person teaches. It is most certainly not simply theology, soteriology, eschatology, etc. Consider Matthew 16:12:

Then understood they how that he bade them not beware of the leaven of bread, but of the doctrine of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees.

A cursory reading of the context reveals that Christ was warning, not of the doctrinal statement of the Pharisees, but of what they taught and practiced. This verse is one illustrative example of the use of the word doctrine in the Bible. Because of the broad definition of doctrine in Scripture, it is impossible to draw a line at the place where “doctrine” ends and preferences begin. Any line drawn must be arbitrary and subject to the individual’s estimation of what is worth contending for. And thus, because “doctrine” is boxed away neatly, many practical teachings of the Scripture seem to be disregarded, like Romans 12:2 (worldliness), 1 Timothy 2:9 (modesty), Psalm 101:3 (entertainment), Psalm 26:5 (separation), Romans 13:8 (debt), etc. Detractors from my point will say that the Christian millennial leaders do live by these verses. Why, then, do I see so many violations of these Scriptural teachings? I would expect to see at least some basic practice of these Scriptures. It has nothing to do with “behaviorism,” but everything to do with being a Christian who loves his God with all of his heart who wants to please and honor Him in every thought, word and deed (1 Corinthians 10:31). I would not dare make some sort of rule list by which to judge all my brothers and sisters in Christ and hold them to my own standard. But, seriously, where are the Christian millennial leaders that are being self-critical and testing their own preferences by the Scripture?

Lest any misunderstand or misinterpret my point, let me be clear. Just because one cannot draw a line between doctrine and preference in the Scripture does not mean that all minute details of practice should be argued (1 Corinthians 11:6). However, it does mean that we cannot simply narrowly redefine “doctrine” to exclude the things that we think are not of the highest importance, then accuse others on our right who disagree of being Pharisaical or judgmental. We must believe in the diety of Christ our Lord and salvation by grace, as well as avoid watching adultery played out on television. Both are in the Bible. Both should be obeyed. What’s more, begin to involve my children and what influences them and the criteria for what is worth contending for change even more.

3. Christian millennials are often unwilling to honestly and bravely examine their own preferences by the Scripture. This is where the rubber meets the road, in my opinion. In general, millennials do not like criticism, as is probably true with everyone to some degree. However, it is the responsibility of Christian millennial leaders to examine themselves and their beliefs and ministries by all of God’s Word with brutal honesty. We should be willing to objectively scrutinize our own viewpoints by the rule of God’s Word, even non-“doctrinal” issues. With all honesty I say this: I don’t see this happening. On the contrary, I see many millennials using gray areas as a license to press the limits. I see millennials’ apparent disregard for clearly defined standards of practical righteousness as set forth in Scripture. I am not referring to how-long, how-short, how-beaty kind of arguments. I am referring to even basic adherence. I rack my brain, sometimes, wondering, “How in the world could they say that’s at all modest or unspotted from the world? How could they say that glorifies God at all?” To many, this is simply judgmental. Yet, God commands me to “Prove all things; hold fast that which is good” (1 Thessalonians 5:21). Where are the Christian millennials that will bravely look at their family’s wardrobe and say, “Is this dress modest and appropriate for a Christian?” Where are they that stick the neck out and ask, “Is this song a clone of the world?” Where are they that ask themselves, “Should I be watching this show with this evil in it?” This is not behaviorism. This is being a Christian wanting to abstain from all appearance of evil for His Lord’s sake. This is being a Christian millennial that is trying to apply all of God’s Word to his life in his era.

Lastly, let me say this. It is not true that you must equate tradition with doctrine or either worry only about “doctrinal” integrity. There is a middle ground. The middle ground is not one that uses the length of your hair or skirt or sound of your music to judge the spirituality of your brother. The middle ground is honestly looking at the Word of God—all of it—and conforming to it in every way that you know how. For sure, we will not always agree on the final conclusions of those examinations. However, defense of one’s actions and excuses to simply test limits among Christian millennials must stop. We cannot continue to be the judges of the previous generation’s faults while we are willfully ignoring our own reluctance to examine what we believe and practice. I love this most applicable quote from Brother Paul Chappell:

It’s okay to challenge the preferences or convictions of the last generation, but show us how you are going to conform to His image and not to the world in your generation. (emphasis mine)
So, I’ll part with four exhortations to Christian Millennial leaders:

  1. Brutally and honestly try yourselves and your beliefs by God’s Word in every matter.
  2. Be the Christian that loves and seriously considers the reproofs of the generation before, even if those reproofs come with an undesirable attitude or disposition.
  3. Tenaciously build your life and ministry on faithful adherence to all of God’s Word, no matter how “the culture” views it or whether or not it is a “doctrinal” issue.
  4. Truly love and pray for those to the right and left of you.
Author: Adam | May 9th, 2014

The Water’s Still On: An Allegory

Let me tell you a story.

Last night, as I pulled up to my house, the neighbor from across the street came over to me and told me some troubling news, to say the least. She told me that someone had come around the neighborhood to inform everyone that starting today everyone’s running water would be turned off (It is odd that no one told me. I live here too, ya know!). (more…)

Author: Adam | March 26th, 2013

Specific, Scriptural Direction for God’s Will

road-with-arrows

In the marathon that is the Christian life, there are many turns that must be taken to remain in what is popularly called the “will of God”. In actuality, the will of God is not a final state in which a servant of the Lord should find themselves when the dust of this life settles, but rather a fulfilling of God’s desire right now. The will of God simply refers to doing and being that which God desires. You might say it is doing “those things that are pleasing in his sight” (1 John 3:22).

In this effort to “do God’s will”, there are doubtless turns and changes that must be made; yea, changes that God Himself ordains. (more…)

Author: Adam | January 12th, 2013

The Realities of Language Study

khmer-scriptLearning a new language is one of the most fun and rewarding things I have done in my life. However, it is also one of the most difficult. Let me quickly say that although I may use past tense in this post, I by no means am indicating that I have arrived, or anything remotely of the sort. I have not. However, I realize now that I did not come to Cambodia with a totally accurate view of language study. So, in this post I hope to point out some of the realities and/or misconceptions I have seen (particularly in my own mind) in hopes it will help some of those that are preparing to go the the mission field and learn a new language.

First of all, basically every language is very, very BIG. If you are reading this blog, then English is most likely your mother tongue. There are so many words in English that we are familiar with but never use. And, beyond those, there are thousands upon thousands of other words that we do not even know, even in our mother tongue! Since this is the case, perish the thought that the language you are going to learn is any different! The difference is you have been learning your mother tongue since you were less than one year old. You must learn a new tongue from scratch as an adult. My view of Khmer up until I came to Cambodia was small. It was akin to standing in a head (bathroom, for you non-seamen) in the middle of a Nimitz-class aircraft carrier. It was impossible to see how big it was! Whatever language you must learn, realize before you start that it is much bigger than you think it is. This leads to the following points.

It will be HARD. The Lord instructs us in Luke 14 to count the cost. The cost in this case is definitely worth the prize, as I said in the first sentence. We still, though, must count the cost. The couple of years of foreign language in high school are not comparable. Really learning a language to become fluent is HARD. It takes much time and study. NOTHING can take the place of steadfastness, patience, and diligence in language study. Nothing whatsoever. Please do not fool yourself into thinking it will be different for you. Prepare to put MUCH time, prayer, and frustration into the study of your target language. Various methods of language-learning may help you learn a language more correctly, but it will not diminish the time or diligence needed to do it. Exceptional ability or a “knack” for learning languages will not take the place of time or diligence. You will not be the exception. The nature of the language you will be studying does not have much of an effect on the time and diligence needed to learn it. Your language will not be easy. My point is none of the three things above will make it easy. Learning a new language is HARD; it is not easy. The only way to learn it is by investing major amounts of time, energy, study, prayer, and diligence. This is REQUIRED.

You WILL BE discouraged. Do not be surprised if you spend four hours a day or more in formal study, then hours after that talking to people and studying vocabulary, all this five days a week, and after six months still have a hard time expressing yourself. Do not be surprised if you spend two full years in formal study. It will be discouraging. It will seem like you will never learn the language. Deuteronomy 7:22 comes to mind in regard to language study. It will come a little at a time. Do not be disheartened. The nature of learning a new language is little by little. The process is so gradual that it may drive you into frustration. I know a number of missionaries here in Cambodia that really do a great job in the Khmer language. However, they still find themselves frustrated and in the pupil’s desk metaphorically over and over, even after having lived here for 10 years or more.

Lastly, if your goal is to be proficient in the language you are studying, you must realize that there will never be an “end” to study. You will always hear words that you don’t know. You will will never arrive. You haven’t arrived in English, and you certainly will not arrive in a second language. Preaching in a second language is not an end. In fact, preaching is really the beginning.

These are some of the realities that I wasn’t entirely prepared for when I came to Cambodia. These are some things that I have observed others not being entirely prepared for when going to the mission field. I hope if and when you start your study of a second language you will have a realistic view of what lies ahead of you, NOT to discourage you from marching forward, but to prepare you store up the diligence needed to continue when it seems like it never ends.

Author: Adam | May 16th, 2010

Thoughts on the Affairs of State

The following is an article written by Bro. James Knox in Deland, Florida.

While we are not in a position to know any more of God’s ways than what He reveals in His word, we can learn from the Bible certain truths which apply to all situations. First, He has promised His presence and grace at all times. Second, He has not promised to exempt us from trials and troubles in this life. Third, the evil ways of man bring trouble upon families and nations, and these troubles affect the righteous as well as the wicked.

We have always refrained from political involvement and have always ignored those who claim to be prophets. No one living knows the future of America, beyond the general truths of scripture which can be applied to all nations. I have been told by well-meaning saints that there will never be another election in the U.S. I was told that in 1992, 1996, 2000, 2004, and 2008. I was told that both Bushes, and a Clinton were the end of all our freedoms. I was told about Y2K and, well, you get the picture. It was all nonsense from false prophets (which did not cost them followers).

It is obvious that things are changing rapidly in our nation but they are not changing direction. The ungodly and unscriptural path we have been traveling has simply grown steeper and our descent appears to have grown more rapid. What are we to do?

First: Admit that when Christians stopped trying to win souls and became involved in politics (1980 forward) that instead of turning the country back to God they hastened its ruin. If you are getting people to vote conservative instead of getting them saved, you are destroying the future of your land. Second: Repent of thinking that more political involvement is going to save our nation. More souls being saved, will result in more people doing what is right, which will be the only hope of saving this or any land from destruction. Third: Get as interested in your Bible as you are in political web sites. Get as interested in preachers as you are in commentators. Get more worried about the fires of hell than the speeches of our president.

That having been said, our people are really hurting because of the current economic downturn. Many, many of our brothers and sisters need steady work. Please pray fervently for their employment. The residual effect of this circumstance is that most churches are really hurting financially. Thank the Lord we have followed a debt-free path. This means that though our offerings are way down from just a year ago, we have not had to cut any funding to our missionaries or drop any outreach for Jesus. But times may get worse. Brothers and sisters, we must learn to pray, we must learn to live humbly rather than lustfully, and those in debt must get out as quickly as possible. This goes for churches as well as individuals.

I too would like to see America become a great, godly, Christian land. But unsaved politicians are not going to accomplish that – only saved people winning others to Jesus could ever bring about the results for which we hope.

Here is a verse that has been mis-quoted a million times in reference to the USA. 2 Chronicles 7:14, If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land. Here is the verse which matches it, that is seldom, if ever, heard. Jeremiah 23:21-22, I have not sent these prophets, yet they ran: I have not spoken to them, yet they prophesied. But if they had stood in my counsel, and had caused my people to hear my words, then they should have turned them from their evil way, and from the evil of their doings.

Let us break free of politics and devote ourselves once again to the Lord Jesus Christ and the conversion of sinners. That is the work God has given to His church.

Author: Adam | April 1st, 2010