Posted in jesus, theology

Remembering our earliest grace

By Elizabeth Prata

New Christians are so full of zeal and fervor! They run hither and yon, proclaiming and exclaiming the glories and perfections of Christ. Those early days of their grace-filled life are sweet to witness. Do you remember your early days?

As sanctification grows, so does the fruit of the Spirit. The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. (Galatians 5:22-23).

As a bundle of one fruit, the fruit in growing saints sweeps in as a rushing tide, later to settle as a gentle march of steady growth.

But as time passes for the mature saint, does the early zeal grow slight? Does it wane? Does the steady growth sadly slow to a state of frozen molasses, inching along only imperceptibly? Let it not be so! Let not the grace filled days of zeal sputter into a distant memory.

Spurgeon said of Christian zeal aimed rightly-

We do little or nothing, the most of us; we fritter away our time. O that we could live while we live; but our existence—that is all we can call it—our existence, what a poor thing it is! … O that we may become inexhaustible and permanent rivers of usefulness, through the abundant springs from whence our supply cometh, even the Spirit of the living God. … We cannot advance so far as the Saviour’s bloody sweat, but to something like it the Christian ought to attain when he sees the tremendous clouds of sin and the tempest of God’s gathering wrath. …

How can I see souls damned, without emotion? How can I hear Christ’s name blasphemed, without a shudder? How can I think of the multitudes who prefer ruin to salvation, without a pang?

I have to close by commending zeal. Let my words be few, but let them be weighty here. In commending zeal, let me say, I think it should commend itself to every Christian man without a word of mine, but if you must have it, remember that God Himself is zealous.

Charles H. Spurgeon, “Zealots” sermon No. 639

If we constantly hark back to our beginning days, we can fan the flame of zeal when we remember our former state. We remember His work to deliver grace. We remember our joy in the relief of the terrible burden of sin and judgment. John Bunyan wrote:

It is profitable for Christians to be often calling to mind the very beginnings of grace with their souls. … It was Paul’s accustomed manner (Acts 22), and that when tried for his life (Acts 24), even to open, before his judges, the manner of his conversion: he would think of that day, and that hour, in the which he first did meet with grace; for he found it support unto him. When God had brought the children of Israel through the Red Sea, far into the wilderness, yet they must turn quite about thither again, to remember the drowning of their enemies there (Num 14:25). For though they sang his praise before, yet “they soon forgat his works” (Psa 106:11-13).

My dear children, call to mind the former days, “and the years of ancient times: remember also your songs in the night; and commune with your own heart” (Psa 73:5-12). Yea, look diligently, and leave no corner therein unsearched, for there is treasure hid, even the treasure of your first and second experience of the grace of God toward you. Remember, I say, the word that first laid hold upon you; remember your terrors of conscience, and fear of death and hell; remember also your tears and prayers to God; yea, how you sighed under every hedge for mercy.

John Bunyan, Grace Abounding

Saint, remember the early days. Remember all that Jesus has done. Extol His virtues and perfections, His willingness to endure the cross with all its loneliness and wrath. His death and burial, and glorious resurrection. Remember all that, so the grace that He delivered to us in forgiveness of our sins will revive the quieting heart, renew the callousing heart, resound the forgetting heart. Jesus was zealous for His Father’s house. We can gather and be zealous for His house also. Zealous in love and submission and awe and worship.

Have a wonderful Lord’s Day!

fruit of the light

 

Posted in church, jesus, john macarthur, repent, revelation

Why the evaporation of America’s cultural Christianity is a good thing

John MacArthur wrote in his monthly letter why the deflation of the bloated Christianity we see in America is allowing the true Christianity to shine. Here is an excerpt from his monthly letter, and then below that, despite the encouraging news, a warning for the Church.

In light of recent headlines, court cases, and cultural trends, over the past few months you’ve probably heard—or said—something like the following: 

Our culture is spinning out of control.”
I can’t believe how fast the moral slide is happening.”
We’re living in a different nation than the one I grew up in.”
I think persecution of Christians is coming . . . soon.” 

Without question, the cultural Christianity many of us grew up with has vanished. There is no collective Christian consensus wielding any significant power in this country today. In fact, the more that true Christians endeavor to speak and live biblically, the more we are being labeled as extremists, homophobic, and intolerant. Truly we are aliens. We foresee a day when being a faithful Christian will cost us or our children dearly, and in ways we couldn’t have imagined just a few years ago. 

So is there any good news? Certainly. We know that God will use even the current hostilities and the climate of impending persecution for good (Romans 8:28). For years I’ve been concerned by the church’s pursuit of cultural change through political and social activities. Large swaths of Christians have placed enormous time, energy, money, and hope in the wrong things. Hand in glove with that thinking, a superficial, cultural Christianity has blurred the clear lines between the kingdom of heaven and the kingdom of this world. Pragmatists in evangelical pulpits have softened the hard demands of the gospel, making discipleship sound easy and grace sound cheap. As a result, churches have been filled with religious, superficially moral, self-righteous people who don’t understand the gospel and are self-deceived about their true spiritual state. 

But with the façade of cultural Christianity shattered, biblical Christianity is beginning to stand out in a way it hasn’t in our lifetime. Scripture teaches and church history confirms that the Body of Christ is most potent and most effective when it simply speaks and lives the gospel without equivocation or apology. With the mask of superficial Christianity pulled down, I believe the best days for the spread of the true gospel are ahead of us.

Read more at the link.

With that said, though it’s true that as the cultural church shrinks and thus there are wonderful opportunities for the church global to share the Gospel and to show out living in a doctrinally pure manner, the moral purity of the Church leaves much to be desired. In a wonderful sermon of two parts, John MacArthur is preaching about Calling The Church To Repent.

There are two parts, and the transcript for both is coming soon. He is preaching from verses in the one place the Bible reveals where the Lord is calling the church to repent, Revelation 1:1-3. The warnings to those actual churches are also actual warnings to us today. The warnings were earned by the various churches due to a list of identified problems listed in the scripture. The churches’ problems were:

  • sexual immorality
  • idolatry
  • absorbing the pagan culture
  • tolerating sin
  • compromise
  • hypocrisy
  • false teaching
  • seduction by error
  • deception
  • preaching for money

This is a list that should be familiar to all of us. Many churches, unfortunately, engage in one or more of these same issues that the first century Revelation churches were engaging in. No, we haven’t built a golden calf to worship idolatrously, but we have built football stadiums, paint ourselves like pagans, and skip church regularly during football season to cheer for sports instead of worship our God. We also worship ourselves, and we have constructed many other idols that compete with God. The rest of the church’s sins are exactly the same today, which is why they should be familiar to us now in the twenty-first century.

In his sermon, Dr MacArthur said that it’s unusual to hear of a pastor calling his church to repent. It’s even more unusual to hear of an entire church repenting, he said, or broken over their hypocrisy, or sorrowful over their compromise, or repudiating their tolerance of the pagan culture, and so on. Though many people think the safest place in the universe is the church, MacArthur said, it’s not so. Jesus is intensely interested in the church, and when He sees problems, He makes threats. This should be a concern to all churches claiming the blood of Christ, and all churches as a whole should do their utmost to adhere to biblical and moral purity.

Please tune in to the sermon and then go on to part 2. It’s worth it.

Posted in conception, encouragement, jesus, life, science

Flash of light announces life

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. And God saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day. (Genesis 1:1-5)

This actually happened. It happened the way the Bible records it happening. God created everything. With HIS VOICE!

Awesome.

Anyway, we read in 1 John 1:5, This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.

God is light. He is unapproachable light. (1 Timothy 6:16).

I read a cute story in the Science section this week. You might have read it as well. It’s this:

Human life begins with ‘flash of light,’ claim scientists

A “flash of light” marks the beginning of life in humans, according to a study conducted by researchers from Northwestern University in Chicago. Scientists were able to capture in video the light or “fireworks” that break out when a human egg is activated by sperm, which mimics the process of conception. During fertilization, the amount of calcium in the egg increases, and the egg releases zinc. As the zinc is released, it bursts into light. This happens every time conception occurs.

It makes sense that light accompanies life, as we read in John 1:1-3

All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. 4In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men.

God is life. God is Light. God ordains all life, creates it, sustains it, numbers it, and calls it home.

Human life begins with a flash of Light. God is good.

Posted in culture shock, discenrment, encouragement, jesus

The very real effects of culture shock, Part 3 (final)

Introduction
Part 1: Examine the very real effects of expatriate living and culture shock.
Part 2: Examine the very real effects of expatriate living and culture shock on the Christian, this time from a Christian worldview.
Part 3: What to do about those stresses

In the Introduction to this Culture Shock series, I’d related several expatriate experiences I’d had while visiting abroad for longer than usual vacation periods. There are very real stresses which emerge physiologically, mentally, and emotionally when chooses to dwell in a nation in which one was not born. This fact also applies even when a person has moved from one nation to the next and their native language is spoken in both places, such as moving from the US to the UK, or Canada to Australia. Culture shock is a real event.

I’d said the earth is not our home. In that sense we believers are expatriates. Our citizenship is in heaven. The jarring difference between our home by citizenship and our home by residency is growing wider every day.

In part 1 I’d shared a list of stressors secular expatriates feel when living abroad. In the second part, I translated those secular stressors into stresses Christians feel as expatriates from heaven living in a hostile world. Things are getting more disorienting every day. The “glory days” of Christianity, are all gone, if they ever existed at all. We ARE strangers in a strange land and the times show us that more as every month passes. Yet many Christians are still shocked at the hostility and unfriendliness in their work or in their social circle or even within their families for their faith. Christians become upset over the political process currently happening in America. They are surprised when friends on Facebook suddenly turn angry, bitter, and mean. They are astounded when seemingly solid marriages break up. They are complaining on social media and at the proverbial water cooler about the state of the church (which is admittedly declining, and declining fast).

Expatriation means a break with home – where you come from and your mother tongue – it requires a mental readjustment to meet the demands of your new life which is often governed by specific rules to which you need to adapt and familiarise yourself. Source

The mental – and emotional –  expatriation that occurs when transferring one’s citizenship from the nation of Earth to the City of Heaven does require a major readjustment. The new Christian life is demanding, and this does not change if one is an old Christian, either. The Lord said to pick up one’s cross every day, (Luke 9:23) and from newbies to veterans, pew-sitters to leaders, the adjustment is daily and ceaseless because sanctification is ceaseless. (Until the moment of glorification, that is!) Releasing attachment from the world is ongoing. Scanning one’s life for idols is constant.It takes energy adn sometimes heartache not to assimilate in the world even while we are in it. (John 17:14-15). Just imagine Jesus, who was not of this world but lived in it for 33 years, perfectly and without sin. The Original expatriate. (John 8:23).

In this part: what to do about our surprise, shock, and upset as we grow apart from the culture that wants to hold tight to us.

First, let’s give ourselves a bit of a break. The earth is the only home we’ve known. Though we know by faith and from the Bible that our home is in heaven, we have not seen it. So when we are caught off guard during a controversy, a tragedy, or a disappointment, though the head-knowledge is strongly present, it sometimes takes a while for the heart to catch up and sort it out. It hurts to lose your church. It pains us to be marginalized from a previous social circle. It is a grief when family distances themselves.

The remedy for culture shock as always is Jesus. He is the remedy for everything.

First, you know the old adage, “Some Christians are so heavenly minded they are no earthly good.” This is a lie straight from satan’s doubly forked tongue. The ONLY way we can be of any good is from, to, through, and because of Jesus, and He is in heaven. Further, the Bible says,

Colossians 3:2 says, Set your mind on things above, not on the things that are on earth.

Contrast the above command with the enemies of Christ who focus on earthly things. It does not end well.

Philippians 3:19 says, Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things.

Matthew 16:23 says, Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.

This is what it means to be in the world but not of it. Don’t become too attached to human concerns. Of course we can be concerned when our favorite candidates’s presidential campaign does not go well, but we should not engage in public hand-wringing. Of course we can be attuned to the economy’s ups and downs, but the schemes and philosophies of man should not rule us. Of course we are involved with the other elements that make up a society, such as technology, business, culture, trade, communications – but those will not last. We might care about the wind farm going over the hill or the bypass being planned for the neighborhood or the bandwidth of our local communications utility – but those things will pass away. Getting TOO involved in the cultural details will shift our focus from the heavenly home above and Jesus as the ruler, creator, sustainer, savior, priest, judge, etc. Shepherd the things that are impacting our lives here on earth but let them go if they are causing a stumbling in our witness.

Have you ever met someone who was so heavenly minded they were so earthly good? No, you haven’t, and I haven’t either. I have met heavenly people who exhibit the fruits of the spirit and they are plenty good on earth, as a witness to the grace of Jesus Christ. They are patient, joyful, kind, self-controlled, kind, good, and gentle. Their Facebook page is not littered with rants against this candidate or that one. Their conversation is not peppered with complaints about the lousy internet service. Their faces are not all sour because their stock took a slight dip.

From the essay The Futility of Political Change:

Part of the fallout from the emphasis on political activism in the church is the denigration of God’s sovereignty. If we truly believe the Lord is the Author of history and that He is orchestrating all things according to His will, do we really need to throw so much of our time, energy, and resources into supporting candidates and ballot measures? Or is it that He has temporarily lost control, and we need to gain it back for Him? 

As John MacArthur explains, that’s simply not the work we’ve been set aside for:

We can’t protect or expand the cause of Christ by human political and social activism, no matter how great or sincere the efforts. Ours is a spiritual battle against worldly ideologies and dogmas that are arrayed against God, and we achieve victory over them only with the weapon of Scripture. The apostle Paul writes: “For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:3-5 NKJV). 

God simply is not calling us to wage a culture war that would seek to transform our countries into “Christian nations.” To devote all, or even most, of our time, energy, money, and strategy to putting a façade of morality on the world or the appearance of “rightness” over our governmental and political institutions is to badly misunderstand our roles as Christians in a spiritually lost world.

So as heavenly expatriates, keep focused on the home to which we will all return.

Secondly, all the expatriate sites say how important it is to make friends in the new location. For Christians, this means developing relationships in and among solid Christians who will lift you or help you by a sacred word, pray for you, and keep you accountable. Start with friendships at church. Make overtures, or host a couple or a new friend or two. Be friendly and kind.

I know this isn’t some of “y’all’s” cup of tea. It isn’t really mine. It isn’t a negotiable though. (Hebrews 10:25). Anyway, I like the old story about the man who quit coming to church. After a while his pastor came to visit the man in his home. A roaring fire was burning in the fireplace. The two sat in companionable silence for a while. The Pastor asked the man why he stopped coming to church and being involved with the people there. The man had a list of complaints that were mostly petty. In response the pastor simply poked the fire iron into the fire, and drew out one ember. Soon, the ember faded and then went out. The pastor simply got up and left, and the next week the man was back in church.

Third, in secular expatriate advice, they advise being ‘open to new experiences’. In Christian expatriate life, we translate their advice to at to “serve”. Doing so gets your mind off yourself. We stretch ourselves when we are called to serve in an area of ministry. (Romans 7:6)

In a secular list of advice for the expatriate, it is warned, “Don’t keep all the pressure of your new life to yourself.” We translate that to “pray without ceasing.” (1 Thessalonians 5:17). Who should we list our complaints to? Jesus. I find this index card very helpful. It was posted on Facebook by a friend today. As the world becomes more brutal, people are more raw. This includes Christians.

Prayer helps us keep our perspective. Lay it all at His feet, from the trivial to the mundane to the tragic woe. He is listening, because He is our priest, interceding for us. (Romans 8:34).

I think I’ve dragged out the metaphor long enough. In order to minimize the very real effects of Christian culture shock in these brutal days:

–Set your mind on the things above
–Develop Godly relationships
–Serve
–Pray

If you do those things you will not be so culture shocked. Personally, I’m looking forward to the shock of living my little life on earth and then the next second being called by Jesus in the rapture and established upon the New Jerusalem which is in heaven! I will have a lovely time being shocked senseless amid the presence of the Savior, the Tree of Life, the saints, the angels, and the glory of God. Now THAT’S culture shock!

Posted in culture shock, encouragement, jesus

The very real effects of culture shock, Part 2

Introduction
Part 1: Examine the very real effects of expatriate living and culture shock.
Part 2: Examine the very real effects of expatriate living and culture shock on the Christian, this time from a Christian worldview.
Part 3: What to do about those stresses

—————————————

Top, GraphicsFairy.com. Bottom, EPrata photo

In the Introduction to this Culture Shock series, I’d related several expatriate experiences I’d had while visiting abroad for longer than usual vacation periods. There are very real stresses which emerge physiologically, mentally, and emotionally when chooses to dwell in a nation in which one was not born. This fact also applies even when a person has moved from one nation to the next and their native language is spoken in both places, such as moving from the US to the UK, or Canada to Australia. Culture shock is a real event.

I’d said the earth is not our home. In that sense we believers are expatriates. Our citizenship is in heaven. The jarring difference between our home by citizenship and our home by residency is growing wider every day. Left, heaven above, earth below.

In part 1 I’d shared a list of stressors secular expatriates feel when living abroad. In this part, I’m translating those secular stressors into stresses Christians feel as expatriates living in a hostile world. Things are getting more disorienting every day.

I am writing from a westerner’s perspective. America was founded by Pilgrims seeking freedom to worship. Puritans were almost successful for a short while in instituting a near theocracy. The First and Second Great Awakenings were events from times past on which today’s Christian looks fondly. We fervently wish all to be saved, and we look back onto those past eras in America of the 1600s, 1700s and 1800s, and even the early part of the 20th century, and long for the times when it seemed everybody believed.

However those are vestiges, mere shadows of a Christianity that even at the time, wasn’t all it seemed to be. The word is hostile to Christianity. America is hostile to Christianity. it always has been. The Christians of any perceived Golden Era were merely cultural Christians, shallow believers going along to get along, pressured by the wider culture to conform. But most of them didn’t really believe.

Today’s Christian of a certain age grew up in church, the Bible Belt was a real section of the country where it seemed that everyone worshiped the same Jesus, and our nation was strong, thriving, respected, and great. God and country.

No more, if it ever was.

I personally believe the Lord is doing us a favor by showing us, albeit rapidly, how shallow the American Christianity was and is, and how few people adhered to what the Bible commands from us as true believers. However much we understand the head knowledge that we are considered as enemies, it still hurts when that fact is brought home to us. Head knowledge from accepting the word from the Bible and boots on the ground experience are two entirely different beasts, and it sometimes takes a while before the latter catches up with the former.

In rapid fashion, even the most head-in-the-ground Christian is beginning to experience lost friendships and splits over faith. More and more false teachers are being promoted by satan. The more believers point them out, the more furious fellow pew sitters, friends or even family become. It hurts to lose friendly or family relations, even as we know that it would occur (because Jesus said it would). (Matthew 10:35, Matthew 10:21, Luke 12:53).

Cultural attitudes toward work, finances, the economy, politics, our nation, schooling, sexuality, marriage, and even gender are changing fast. It’s disorienting, even as we attempt to adjust to the changing landscape yet remain tranquil and calm with the peace of Jesus as our aura. Made even harder is that secular expatriates try to assimilate, but as Christians we must remain in the world and not of the world. We want to integrate, but not assimilate.

Integration occurs when individuals are able to adopt the cultural norms of the dominant or host culture while maintaining their culture of origin. Source

I’d posted in the last part that secular expatriates experience ten major stress-related triggers. Below, I reformatted those top ten secular stresses into stresses that hopefully may seem similar to today’s Christian. Even without my re-formatting, a Christian would easily recognize the ten stressors if they wanted to apply them to their own circumstance.

1.) Long and unusual work hours due to the fact that Christians are never “off” and are always “on” and like the Father, always working. (Col 3:23, John 5:17).In these brutal days, there is all the more work to do, ministries to fill, and faltering friends to hold accountable or to comfort when tragedy happens.

2) A “trailing Christian spouse” who has given up a career to move abroad with her working spouse and is adjusting to not only a new country, but a new lifestyle, especially when the feminist culture mocks women for submitting to her husband. (1 Peter 3:1)

3) New stresses for our Christian children: school, new non-Christian friends, a different native language, counter-Christian teachers and teaching methods, and not to mention, full immersion into a culture other than their own. It stresses the parents to know how best to protect children from secular influences. (Proverbs 1:8).

4) As new Christians, our most comfortable support system of non-Christian friends and family have gone from being neighbors and parents to enemies of the Christ in us. (Matthew 19:29). Creating a new local support system takes a lot of time and emotional energy, and can be a stressful endeavor, especially for babes in the faith.

Finding a church so as to merge into a support system of comfort and accountability early on in your Christian expatriate life is essential. (Acts 2:42). Yet many churches teach false doctrine and babes are especially vulnerable because they cannot always detect the false, and instead of a new support system for growth in the faith, what they get is drawn into a pit from which, if they escape by grace of God, having then to start over and dispense with the teachings that have now polluted their brain. (Hebrews 3:13).

5) A certain amount of lost independence due to language barriers.

6) The dynamics of a Christian marriage inevitably change with the new responsibilities and roles that come along with a move of citizenship from the World to the nation of Heaven, creating stress for each spouse. (Ephesians 5:22-27)

7) For “Single Global Christians,” between building a social network outside of work without the benefit of a spouse, and not having a sense of “community” or roots, being abroad alone can be both a stressful and lonely place, especially if one has been disowned for the faith or lives where there literally is no visible network and speaking of Jesus means death.

8) Finances. In many instances, the transfer of citizenship from the World to the City of Heaven reduces the Christian’s economic status in life. This is especially stressful when one has been immersed in hearing Prosperity Gospel and one wonders why “it’s not working for me.” For others, being a citizen of Heaven means persecution comes in stolen property, schemes to steal one’s home, or persecution where one loses everything.

9) Being Unhappy. Having a negative attitude or feelings about where you are; unrealistic expectations of your new life in your new country, and expecting perfectionism from yourself and the culture around you is a breeding ground for self-induced stress and a recipe for marital unhappiness. Your unhappiness is a feeling even your children pick up on.

10) Poor stress coping skills. Usually due to a lack of prayer and a lack of studying the Bible.

Over the last decades, who hasn’t been influenced in perspective when watching grainy lack and white Billy Graham Crusades and saw thousands of seekers streaming forward? Who hasn’t been affected by seeing many ‘walk the aisle’ at revival after revival? Which grandmother doesn’t fondly recall the glory days of Christianity when the churches were full and everybody came to dinner on the ground?

Those days are all gone, if they ever existed at all. We ARE strangers in a strange land and the times show us that more each day. Yet still, many Christians are shocked at the hostility and unfriendliness in their work or in their social circle or even within their families.

In the next part: what to do about it.

Introduction
Part 1: Examine the very real effects of expatriate living and culture shock.
Part 2: Examine the very real effects of expatriate living and culture shock on the Christian, this time from a Christian worldview.
Part 3: What to do about those stresses.

———————————

Further reading

How can Believers be in the world but not of the World?

What does it mean for Christians to be in the world but not of the world?

Blog Series at Grace to You, In the World, but not of it

Posted in culture shock, encouragement, jesus, the world

The very real effects of culture shock, Part 1

Introduction
Part 1: Examine the very real effects of expatriate living and culture shock.
Part 2: Examine the very real effects of expatriate living and culture shock on the Christian, this time from a Christian worldview.
Part 3: What to do about those stresses.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Laundromat in Baños, Ecuador. It cost a quarter and they give you
a rock to use to scrub. Soap not included. EPrata photo

In the Introduction to this Culture Shock series, I’d related several expatriate experiences I’d had while visiting abroad for longer than usual vacation periods. There are very real stresses which emerge physiologically, mentally, and emotionally when chooses to dwell in a nation in which one was not born. This fact also applies even when a person has moved from one nation to the next and their native language is spoken in both places, such as moving from the US to the UK, or Canada to Australia. Culture shock is a real event.

I’d mentioned that in these days with quickly shifting cultural sands disorienting us and putting us off balance, Christians experience a similar culture shock. The earth is not our home. In that sense we are expatriates. Our citizenship is in heaven.

Expatriates find that they experience stress while living abroad. In this essay I’ll look at the stresses expatriates experience from a secular perspective. In the next essay I’ll compare these stresses to the Christian’s experience of living on earth while not being OF the earth, heaven’s expatriates, as it were.

I do want to mention that I’m not a fan of Psychology or secular counseling, but the fact is the body and mind do go through physiological changes when living under pressure in an unfamiliar culture in which one is NOT trying to assimilate. It’s hard when we are in the world but not trying to reach the world nor adopt the world’s habits. Let’s acknowledge it’s stressful. The following is from The Expat Exchange. Though they were written for the secular Expat, one can see the pattern can be applied to the citizen of Heaven in today’s hostile World. I’ll explore this more in the next essay. And incidentally, I am sure that missionaries are given a thorough grounding in what to expect when moving overseas, but the shock of adjusting to being there can’t be learned from a classroom, but experienced mentally, physically and emotionally.

Top Ten Reasons why Expats get stressed

1) Long and unusual work hours due to doing business in different time zones and a 70%-of-the-year travel schedule for the working spouse.

2) A “trailing expat spouse” who has given up a career to move abroad with his or her working spouse and is adjusting to not only a new country, but a new lifestyle.

3) New stresses for our expat children: a new school, new multi-cultural friends, a different native language, new teachers and teaching methods, and not to mention, full immersion into a culture other than their own.

4) As new expats, our most comfortable support system of friends and family have gone from being neighbors and parents to voices on the phone or words on an email. Creating a new local support system takes a lot of time and emotional energy, and can be a stressful endeavor, especially for first time expats.

5) A certain amount of lost independence due to language barriers is stressful, making everything from arranging for house repairs to ordering a pizza over the phone very frustrating.

6) The dynamics of an expat marriage inevitably change with the new responsibilities and roles that come along with a move overseas, creating a certain amount of stress for each spouse.

7) For “Single Global Professionals,” between building a social network outside of work without the benefit of a spouse, and not having a sense of “community” or roots, being abroad alone can be both a stressful and lonely place to be.

8) Finances. In many instances, home leaves, house hold expenses and medical procedures/visits are all paid out-of-pocket before employer reimbursement (depending on your employer situation), so having a healthy savings account and good credit is a must to move abroad.

9) Being Unhappy. Having a negative attitude or feelings about where you are; unrealistic expectations of your new life in your new country, and expecting perfectionism from yourself and the culture around you is a breeding ground for self-induced stress and a recipe for marital unhappiness. Your unhappiness is a feeling even your children pick up on.

10) Poor stress coping skills.

Ponder these, and think about them both in terms of the intent of the original article aimed toward secular expats, but also think of them in terms of being a Christian expat. Tomorrow, I’ll re-phrase the above top ten stresses into Christian expat stresses and perhaps they will speak to what you may be going through.

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:2)

Introduction
Part 1: Examine the very real effects of expatriate living and culture shock.
Part 2: Examine the very real effects of expatriate living and culture shock on the Christian, this time from a Christian worldview.
Part 3: What to do about those stresses.

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Further reading

How can Believers be in the world but not of the World?

What does it mean for Christians to be in the world but not of the world?

Blog Series at Grace to You, In the World, but not of it

Posted in jesus, Mosul, prophecy, woe

Mosul Dam at risk of catastrophic failure

Introduction & Background

BBC

A news headline caught my eye last week. It is from the UK Telegraph, and consists of a dire warning from US officials regarding the Mosul Dam.

US warns of ‘tsunami wave’ across Iraq if the Mosul Dam collapses

Iraq’s Mosul Dam faces “unprecedented” risk of a “catastrophic failure” that would unleash a wave of water which could flatten cities and kill hundreds of thousands within hours, the US has said. The American government issued an unusually stark warning of the horrors that face Iraq if the dam gives way, describing a “tsunami-like wave” that would crush nearly a third of the country.

Iraq’s power grid could be entirely knocked out and parts of major cities would be underwater for weeks like areas of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, the US said. The Iraqi government would be unable to direct an evacuation because Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil) still controls much of the territory near the dam and so people need to prepare to evacuate on their own, the US said.

The 2014 article from the BBC recounts the reasons why the dam is so unstable-

Instrument of war
However, since its completion in the 1980s, the dam has required regular maintenance involving injections of cement on areas of leakage. The US government has invested more than $30m (£17.9m) on monitoring and repairs, working together with Iraqi teams. The black flags of jihadist group Islamic State flew over the Mosul dam for 10 days before it was recaptured by Kurdish and Iraqi ground forces. In 2007, the then commanding general of US forces in Iraq, David Petraeus, and the then US ambassador to Iraq, Ryan Crocker, warned Iraq’s PM Nouri Maliki that the structure was highly dangerous because it was built on unstable soil foundation. 

“A catastrophic failure of Mosul dam would result in flooding along the Tigris river all the way to Baghdad,” [200 miles away] they said in a letter. “Assuming a worst-case scenario, an instantaneous failure of Mosul dam filled to its maximum operating level could result in a flood wave 20 metres (65.5ft) deep at the city of Mosul,” it said.

So the dam itself is faulty and now that the terror group ISIS has captured so much land in the surrounding area fears are they will use the dam as an instrument of war. The situation has not improved much since ISIS took over surrounding area and even had taken over the dam briefly in 2014, because, as this CNS News article from yesterday states,

The situation worsened when ISIS terrorists overran the dam and held it for several weeks in 2014. Since then, efforts to reinforce the dam’s foundations have not been adequate, partly because ISIS still controls the factory that produces concrete for the dam. (source)

Catastrophic Effects of Dam Busting

This situation brings to mind two items, First is Dam Busters and the Geneva Convention, and second is the Great Tribulation.

Familiar to many people are the battles of WWII. We all know the names of battles such as The battle of the Bulge, Bombing of Berlin, The London Blitz, and D-Day. Less familiar is Operation Chastise.

According to Wikipedia,

Prior to World War II, the British Air Ministry had identified Germany’s heavily industrialised Ruhr Valley, and especially its dams, as important strategic targets: in addition to providing hydro-electric power and pure water for steel-making, they also supplied drinking water and water for the canal transport system. The methods used to attack the dams had been carefully worked out. Calculations indicated that repeated air strikes with large bombs could be effective, but required a degree of accuracy which Bomber Command had been unable to attain in the face of enemy defences.

The Möhne dam the day following the attacks.
16–17 May 1943. Wikipedia

The movie “The Dam Busters” is the story of one scientist who developed a special bomb that could skip over water, avoid the torpedo nets, and then sink against the bottom of the dam in order to explode it at a sensitive point. The concept is of an earthquake bomb. Once the bomb was developed, the Operation was a success but there was heavy loss of Allied life due to the pilots having to fly so low to drop the bombs. The Operation was successful for the British both in its short-term and its long-term effects. But at what cost?

Flying Officer Frank “Jerry” Fray wrote of the experience of seeing the Valley after the dam breach-

When I was about 150 miles from the Möhne Dam, I could see the industrial haze over the Ruhr area and what appeared to be a cloud to the east. On flying closer, I saw that what had seemed to be cloud was the sun shining on the floodwaters. I looked down into the deep valley which had seemed so peaceful three days before [on an earlier reconnaissance mission] but now it was a wide torrent. The whole valley of the river was inundated with only patches of high ground and the tops of trees and church steeples showing above the flood. I was overcome by the immensity of it.

This is the same level of damage the opening articles were mentioning if the Mosul Dam in Iraq collapsed.

The destruction was so cataclysmic that it prompted a new resolution to the Geneva Convention. In 1977, Article 56 of the Protocol I amendment to the Geneva Conventions, outlawed attacks on dams “if such attack may cause the release of dangerous forces from the works or installations and consequent severe losses among the civilian population.”

ISIS, Infrastructure, and the Great Tribulation

Recently, people have been making date predictions about the start of the Great Tribulation. Some have said it will begin in March 2016, which is now. FYI, it is not going on now. The Tribulation has not begun. We know this because the church has not been removed from the earth yet, which will happen prior to the beginning of the Tribulation wrath being poured out.

Setting a specific date for the start of this worst event to ever happen on the face of the earth (Matthew 24:21) is forbidden by scripture, (Matthew 24:36, Acts 1:7), but people do it anyway. Sigh. One reason we are not to date set is that continual date setting with failure to fulfill destroys the confidence in weak Christians. That is sad. It also tarnishes the study of prophecy in general, and prophecy is extremely important.

What I find troublesome is the people who make fun of this date setting. Christian mockers mocking the event’s non-event. The Great Tribulation is no laughing matter. Jesus warned that it will be the WORST time on earth, ever. This means worse than the Flood of Genesis when every person on earth save 8 drowned. Every animal died (except on the ark). The Great Tribulation will be worse. It will be blood and anger and horror and demons abounding. It will be destruction and war and hate and brutality. It is not something to be taken lightly and certainly not to be made fun of.

One reason I mention prophecy quite often is because I want people to understand that the way things are will end. We are living on borrowed time, nationally speaking. What we see in our countries will exist no more. Infrastructure will crumble. Bridges, dams, walls, towers, will come down. Governments will l dissolve and reform to form a global tyranny. People will kill for no reason, or just because. The world’s most vulnerable – widows, children, poor, pets/animals – will be at most risk. People will simply not care one bit for their neighbor. People will be killed for a sip of water, or because they wore blue that day or they didn’t walk fast enough. The Great Tribulation literally will be hell on earth.

The dams in WWII that were busted caused so much havoc and death that the World decided not to use them as targets ever again. When the dams were busted in WWII 1,600 civilians were killed.

Here, the breach in the Mohne Dam’s massive wall gives way to a scene
of utter devastation as millions of gallons of water flooded into the valley
Image: Schalber, cc-sa-3.0 DE)

Prophecy authenticates the speaker, so this means ultimately God’s word is authenticated as He speaks and His prophecies come true. (Deuteronomy 13:1-3). Prophecy is supposed to quicken us and enliven us as we are ever-aware that this is not our world. We are not citizens of earth. We are citizens of heaven.

During the time of the Tribulation, do we think for one moment that some terror group won’t hesitate to destroy any dam? Any bridge? ISIS already destroys for the sake of destroying. What do we think will happen when the Restrainer has left the earth and allows man his full range of sinful impulses?

The devastation upon earth during the Tribulation will be uncountable. If the Mosul Dam is teetering on the brink of failure now, just imagine the horror of that and other catastrophic failures during the time of greatest woes ever occurring on the earth. Don’t take the Tribulation lightly and certainly, please, don’t mock even those who set dates about it. It is the second heaviest subject in the Bible, permanent wrath in hell being the worst. The Tribulation will be hell on earth and hell will have to enlarge its mouth for it to accept the many thousands at a time to enter it as will happen during the Tribulation.

Pray for souls to be saved now, during the age of grace. Be a living witness of the cause of Christ, warning of the wrath to come, in all due gravity and urgent pleading. If the Mosul Dam fails it will be like a mosquito bite compared to the devastation daily occurring during the Time of Jacob’s Trouble.

Posted in adam, beauty, curse, encouragement, jesus

If earth is this beautiful…

When Adam sinned, the Lord our God, creator of all, cursed the ground.

“Because you have listened to the voice of your wife
and have eaten of the tree
of which I commanded you,
‘You shall not eat of it,’
cursed is the ground because of you;
(Genesis 3:17)

I live in a rural area. Not every place on earth looks like this, I know. But I’m astounded that ANY place looks like this, after the curse.

If God’s earth is THIS beautiful after the ground has been cursed, then imagine the beauty of heaven! Look toward the reward- being in God’s family, perfected in glory, and seeing the face of Jesus, amid inexpressible sounds and sights of beauty of such scope that we cannot even imagine! (2 Corinthians 12:4)

But, as it is written, “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him”— (1 Corinthians 12:9)

Posted in bible study, concordia, discernment, encouragement, jesus, small group

How do I lead a home bible study?

Some readers have asked how to start or lead a home group Bible study. This is a great question. There are many reasons why you might want to start a small group study in your home or at work. In these days of rising apostasy, some people are finding they are not receiving good instruction at their church from the pulpit or their Sunday School class. Others have left their church and have not found another one yet, but do not want to leave off fellowship with like-minded believers. Some are in a megachurch and this is the best way to connect with fellow believers for study and prayer. (Acts 2:42). Still others are born leaders with the gift and heart for teaching.

First before starting a group at your home, if you are members of a church, be sure to discuss this with your pastor. You don’t need his permission to start one, but if you want the credibility of your church and his endorsement, you will need to submit to him for pastoral oversight- especially if you’re a woman intending to minister to other women this way. More on that from 9Marks of a Healthy Church folks.

Another note I’d like to stress is that if you’re a woman wanting to start a home group study, you do NOT need to remain in the women’s aisle at the book store when perusing curricula. There is no biblical command to study only from guides written by women, and there are many good reasons not to. Here is one prime example of how or why it might be better to study from a curriculum written by a man.

The IF:gathering is the biggest phenomenon you may never have heard of. That is because it is an organization founded by women who do their work mainly online. Though there are small group gatherings in real life, of course, called IF:table, these come about because of their organizational and promotional work in the largely hidden realm of social media. In other words, if you’re not clued in, you would never know that this is going on:

Every pin on that map, screen shot from last week, is a gathering under the auspices and curriculum of the IF:gathering, called IF:table. IF:table is women meeting up in homes and back yards to discuss the Bible in a fellowship atmosphere with an outlined curriculum. When I first looked at the IF:ladies and their local gatherings a few years ago, there were white spaces on the map where there were still no gatherings being held. You can see how they have gathered steam over the last two years. Now there are no white spaces east of the Mississippi.

The problem is, the IF:curriculum is less than solid. After all, the name IF comes from the women’s foundational premise; “IF God is real, then what?” These women promote a social gospel in lieu of the true Gospel among other issues with their hermeneutic. I’ll link to the biblical reasons why I’ve come to this conclusion below. IF is a liberal, questioning, soft ‘Bible’ study designed exactly for women who are always striving to learn but never able to come to knowledge of the truth. It’s a curriculum designed to feed into women’s vulnerabilities and capture them in a snare. We are the weaker vessel, and sadly, the success of IF:table proves it. (1 Peter 3:7).

For among them are those who enter into households and captivate weak women weighed down with sins, led on by various impulses, 7always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth. (2 Timothy 3:6-7).

So aside from the biblical vulnerability we have to following the false, how do the IF: ladies successfully get so many women to gather in back yards? By making it easy. Here is their curriculum explanation outline-

IF:table- A place to gather women and share a simple meal and dive deep with people over real stories and Christ centered conversations. A time for a whole lot of laughter – and maybe a few tears – but time spent that leaves us with glad hearts. Full hearts. Grateful hearts. 

We’re inviting you to join us by hosting a dinner with us. Once a month in your local communities 

The vision is-
     6 women
     4 questions
     2 hours
     (Acts 2:46) 

Invite your people, prepare a simple meal, and we will provide the conversation cards 2 weeks before each IF:Table.

Source

Therefore the question I was asked, what solid alternatives are there? becomes important. Where can women and/or their husbands turn to find materials that will aid the leader in setting up a consistent, biblical fellowship study in your home?

First let’s look at the reasons to have a small gathering in the first place, and what they are and what they are not.

From the 9Marks men, Using Small Study Groups to Cultivate Fellowship defined,

They are not support or counseling groups, and they are not pure study groups. Rather, they are used to cultivate spiritual fellowship together, a fellowship informed by Scripture and pursued through prayer, study, and interpersonal reflection.

I would go to that link above and read that essay from 9Marks and read any others they have at the site. 9Marks is a website dedicated to helping Christians find resources and answers in today’s practical church life.

From Grace To You here are some short essays on the mechanics of the small group study fellowship:

Elements of Productive Bible Study: Believe
Elements of Productive Bible Study: Meditate
Elements of Productive Bible Study: Teach

LifeWay has a series of free articles that outline the elements of leading a good Bible discussion at home,

How to Lead a Successful Discussion-Driven Bible Study (Introduction)

  1. Prepare Yourself Mentally and Spiritually to Lead
  2. Develop a Discussion Plan that Works
  3. Handle Conversation Hogs and Rabbit Chasers
  4. Connect Between Group Sessions
  5. Start a Group Strong by Answering Why? Who? and What? First

This is a leader recommended book though Westminster Bookstore:
Iron Sharpens Iron! Leading Bible-Oriented Small Groups that Thrive

Small Bible-study groups are great places for Christians both to interact with God’s Word and to share their lives with others. They provide relaxed and informal settings which facilitate growth in grace and understanding. Orlando Saer provides a realistic and practical guide for anyone leading or wanting to lead such a group. This book will give you the tools you need as a leader to see your group thrive.

Now that I have done my duty grounding you and offering resources as to the reasons for and how-tos of leading a small group study in your home, here are a few curricula you may find useful.

The first thing to do is browse for materials at a trusted store. If you’ve decided to go under the auspices of your pastor/church, he/they can direct you. If you are on your own, then you find that the materials offered at various brick and mortar bookstores or online can be wild and woolly. LifeWay offers much, but much of what they offer is heretical. Picking through their offerings would be fraught with time-consuming danger, even for the most discerning. I like Westminster Bookstore which has a Reformed bent to it. Shopping at their online store one would be less likely to come across heretical materials.

Concordia University is a Lutheran University in Portland OR and branches elsewhere which has a pretty good online bookstore attached to it. You can try for materials there. I have not done a ton of business through Concordia so as always, think, pray, and discern for yourselves.

Also, Amazon is helpful for their reviews as well as their recommendations. One thing that is sometimes useful is that as you browse and buy books at Amazon, the logarithm behind the search function begins to “know” what you like and pairs your search with like-books from your browsing history, your purchases, and others’ as well. ‘It’ makes recommendations for you. If all you do is buy Beth Moore and Lisa TerKeurst books then that is the kind of book that will be recommended to you. After a while of browsing and buying solid books you can then begin to trust the recommendations a bit more and explore them. This is a screen shot from my recommended section:

Here are a few leader friendly, seemingly doctrinally solid, and engaging to the participant materials that yielded up when I searched for “small group Bible study curricula” at Westminster Books and elsewhere. I say seemingly not to cast aspersion but to let you know I have not read these books nor done any studies through them. As always, choose wisely.

The Practice of Godliness Small-Group Curriculum: Godliness Has Value for All Things 1 Timothy 4:8. Jerry Bridges

I have read the Jerry Bridges book The Joy of the Fear of God and it’s good.

TULIP: The Pursuit of God’s Glory in Salvation (John Piper Small Group, 2009)

For women, by women, there are Bible Studies with Lydia Brownback, a recommended writer from both Challies and Leslie Wiggins at Discerning Reader. This synopsis of Brownback was written in 2008

Lydia Brownback is the author of several books. She served as writer-in-residence for Rev. Alistair Begg and as the broadcast media manager for the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. A regular speaker at women’s conferences, Brownback also blogs at The Purple Cellar. She holds degrees from Syracuse University and Westminster Theological Seminary.

There is Todd Friel’s Drive By series. The Drive By Theology series has a study guide to accompany it. The Drive By title indicates that the theme is developed in numerous short audio lessons one can listen to on a short drive to work, say, no longer than 10-20 minutes. In the case of DB Theology, Steven J. Lawson is the main lecturer. The study guide accompanies the audio series. It is good for small groups because each lecture is short, leaving time for group discussion, and the .pdf curriculum helps the leader facilitate. There are various uses for the curriculum, as mentioned here in the introduction

How much you learn from this curriculum will depend on how much you put into it. You can go all out and turn this into a year-long project or simply use it as a way to look into a few of the things that catch your interest. If you want to understand more about how different denominations within the Church view the ordo salutis, spend some time looking at their teachings. Whether you are using this as a family study at the dinner table, a self-improvement project, a summer project for your kids to study, or a Bible curriculum for your homeschooler, you will find exciting things as you learn about how God has revealed Himself to us in the pages of Scripture

I also recommend Chris Powers, an artist who makes animations and creates doctrinally solid study guides to go with them. His materials are free. You can download The Word of the Cross study guide here. It is also available in Spanish. The Supremacy of Christ is available too, and it also has a Spanish translation.

John MacArthur’s new book Parables is a wonderful read, and a new study guide/workbook will be available on March 1, 2016. The Publisher’s synopsis says,

This workbook has been designed to enhance readers’ experience of reading the book and is intended both for individual use and for study in a small-group setting.

So now that you know of some of the organizations, people and teachers that come recommended with study guides for small groups, and can continue to search on your own, I hope the Lord leads you to a good one and that your small groups thrive. Fellowship is important and I admire anyone with the gift of hospitality and teaching who bring people together under their roof to exalt Jesus and learn more about Him.

Though the IF:ladies make hosting a groups study look inviting and easy, with their softly photographed flower-laden tables and their 4 easy question cards, but hosting a group is not easy nor should it be taken casually. Also, the ladies make hosting a Bible study look at once inviting and impossible-to-achieve.

Sure. My backyard looks like that.

It’s the Lord’s own word you’re gathering to learn more of, after all. So it shouldn’t be casual or easy. But the Holy Spirit gives aid and comfort, leads and directs. HE is in charge of our souls pointing us to Christ, and anyone who wants to lead people to that end will find help from Him. That is a guarantee, because He promised to do so, and His promises never fail.

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The End Time: IF:gathering review part 1

TruthKeepers: IF:gathering…is it a movement of God?

Sola Sisters: Strong warning about the IF:gathering

Posted in bible, jesus, scripture photo

Scripture photo: Anguish ("Church Bulletin" series)

Here’s a change of pace for your next church bulletin cover. Pain and anguish. In the verse, Paul is about to discuss the judicial hardening of the Jews’ hearts to many of their souls’ eternal destruction. As Jamieson Fausset Brown Commentary explains,

the bitter hostility of his nation to the glorious Gospel, and the awful consequences of their unbelief, weighing heavily and incessantly upon his spirit.

Paul’s response to God’s sovereign election and His judicial work among the people is an appropriate one. Our response to sin and rejection of Jesus should be the same. If all scripture is sufficient for teaching, reproof and correction, then it’s my dream that someday the church bulletin people will include some verses that do just that, as the Romans 9:2 verse does, illustrating a response to sin that is as much human as it is proper. Instead, we get a continual drip of insipid love and encouragement verses which is my opinion only serve in some cases to deepen the complacency of the self-satisfied Christian and most times, are ignored by the rest. How about some balance here, people?

OK, this is me pursuing the impossible dream… Soapbox over for today.

Scripture photo “Church Bulletin” series #1, Vulture

Scripture photo: “Church Bulletin” Series #3, Hell

Scripture photo “Church Bulletin” series #4, Lake of Fire

Scripture photo: “Church Bulletin” series #5, Wrath