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Church: It’s Not About Me – The Ultimate Witness

Love One AnotherKey Bible Verse:  “Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.”  John 13:35

Bonus Reading:  John 17:20-24

An unsettling revelation to most Christ-followers, in light of our fierce individualism, is how many of the marks or proofs of a Christian involve other people.  You can’t truly follow Christ apart from community, for so much of what is involved in following him is tied to the “one anothers” of Scripture.

Originally sent as apostolic admonishments to Christians gathered in local churches, they include such directives as “serve one another” (Gal. 5:13), “encourage each other” (1 Thess. 5:11), “accept each other” (Rom. 15:7), and “make allowance for each other’s faults” (Col. 3:13).  These are clear in their command, decisive in spiritual formation, and impossible to fulfill apart from a local community of faith.

Jesus maintained in today’s Bonus Reading that the practice of such community, brought to life in and through the church, would offer the ultimate witness to the world about his own life and ministry. He was convinced that the church, functioning as a community of love and witness, would arrest the attention of the world and give ultimate affirmation to his message of salvation.  

If we fail to participate in this community, we undermine how Christ envisioned his message being affirmed in the eyes of the world.

—James Emery White in Serious Times

 

My Response: If involvement in Christian community offers solid proof of my commitment to Christ, how committed am I?

 

Thought to Apply: Church-goers are like coals in a fire.  When they cling together, they keep the flame aglow; when they separate, they die out.—Billy Graham (evangelist)

Adapted from Serious Times (InterVarsity, 2004)

 

 

Prayer for the Week:  As your disciple, Lord, I recognize I can’t live a life of faith and faithful service on my own.  Help me to truly connect with Christian community.

Church: It’s Not About Me – Why Not Leave?

ReconciliationKey Bible Verse:  And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another. – Hebrews 10:25

Bonus Reading:  2 Corinthians 2: 5-11

The pastor preaches about generosity in giving, and you’re battling selfishness.  A small group studies moral purity, and you’re crossing biblical boundaries.  A Sunday school leader teaches on integrity in the workplace, and you’re taking shortcuts.  Your discomfort is no reason to leave; it’s a good reason to stay.  

Don’t go looking for a church that lowers biblical standards just to make people feel comfortable.

You’ve been caught in a sin.  You’ll be tempted to run away and start fresh in a church where no one knows about it.  Yet God often wants a person in this situation to stay right where he is and let his church family love him and help him through this difficult time.  The community of faith can keep you accountable, ask tough questions, and pray for you.

You’ve had a conflict with someone.  When tensions have flared, hard words exchanged, and feelings hurt, you might think about leaving to avoid the difficult process of reconciliation.  Usually the wisest choice is to stay and work through a process of relational healing.  Otherwise you might find you have to leave a whole series of churches.

—Kevin and Sherry Harney in Finding a Church You Can Love

 

My Response: When I’ve sinned, am I committed to coming clean and trusting the body of Christ to restore me?

 

Thought to Apply:  The house of God is not a safe place.  It is where we are challenged to live more vulnerably, more interdependently.—Madeleine L’Engle (writer)

Adapted from Finding a Church You Can Love (Zondervan, 2003)

 

 

Prayer for the Week:  As your disciple, Lord, I recognize I can’t live a life of faith and faithful service on my own.  Help me to truly connect with Christian community.

Church: It’s Not About Me – The Right Question

Spiritual Maturity 3Key Bible Verse:  I give each of you this warning: Don’t think you are better than you really are.  Be honest in your evaluation of yourselves, measuring yourselves by the faith God has given us.  Romans 12:3

Bonus Reading:  Romans 12:3-7; Ephesians 4:4-6.

When I attended Michigan State during the ’70s, the basketball team wasn’t very good even though there were good players on the team.

Norte Dame was in town and we were the underdogs.  It was a close game all the way. You could sense that it was going to come down to the last shot.  And there was a senior guard who was a great shot.  If the game was on the line, you wanted the ball in his hands.

There was another player on the team who was a young, cocky freshman and, although he had a lot of promise, he still had a long way to go.  You guessed it.  As the clock ticked down to the final seconds, the ball was in the hands of this freshman.

Instead of passing the ball to the senior guard, the freshman took the shot and missed.  His desire to be the hero lost the game.  Team unity is based on asking the right question: “What is best for the team?”  The freshman didn’t ask the right question.

Church unity is also based on asking the right question: “What is best for the church?”  You may not agree with the pastor.  You may not agree with the Sunday school superintendent.  But you must ask yourself the question: “What is best for the church?”

—Joe Williams

 

My Response: What is one decision being made in my church that may not be best for me but is still best for the church?

 

Thought to Apply: When Christians meet … their purpose is not—or should not be—to ascertain what is the mind of the majority, but what is the mind of the Holy Spirit.—Margaret Thatcher (British prime minister)

 

Prayer for the Week:  As your disciple, Lord, I recognize I can’t live a life of faith and faithful service on my own.  Help me to truly connect with Christian community.

Church: It’s Not About Me – Having It God’s Way

Spiritual Maturity 2Key Bible Verse:  I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship.  Romans 12:1, NIV

Bonus Reading:  Philippians 2:1-5

“Please turn in your hymnals to page 158,” says the pastor, “and bring your sheep to the front to be slaughtered.”

That’s not exactly what we hear in church every weekend.  In the Old Testament, worship and sacrifice went hand-in-hand, but today these two are not as easily connected.  Maybe they should be.

I hate to admit it, but I’ve grumbled to my wife about a worship song that was “so 1990s.”  I’ve complained that my favorite pastor wasn’t teaching.  Not my finer moments.

Now, it’s normal and okay to have preferences.  But I’m concerned with how we respond when things are done according to another’s preferences.

Complaining and grumbling reveal a heart of selfishness and entitlement.  On the other hand, I can choose to sacrifice having it “my way.”  I can peacefully and joyfully sit through a song I don’t like, realizing that the church is not there to serve me.  

I am there to worship God—the God who unselfishly sacrificed his Son for me.

Thankfully we don’t offer animals to God anymore (too messy on the new carpet), but we are still called to sacrifice in our worship gatherings.  Let’s put our preferences aside and turn the focus back on God.  This is our worship.

—Jason Kliewer

 

My response:  How do I respond to worship preferences that aren’t my preferences?

 

Thought to Apply:  The church exists to train its member through the practice of the presence of God to be servants of others, to the end that Christlikeness may become common property.—William Adams Brown (clergyman and theologian)

 

 

Prayer for the Week:  As your disciple, Lord, I recognize I can’t live a life of faith and faithful service on my own.  Help me to truly connect with Christian community.

Church: It’s Not About Me – Serving Customers?

Spiritual MaturityKey Bible Verse:  You have been believers so long now that you ought to be teaching others.  Hebrews 5:12

Bonus Reading:  Hebrews 5:11 – 6:3

He walked confidently up to me one Sunday morning, introduced himself, and said he’d been attending for over a month.  The teaching met his standards, he told me; the music was acceptable, and he was pleased with the children’s and youth ministries.  He was married, he said, and had several children.

When I asked him where they were, he explained that they weren’t yet allowed to attend; he wanted to first check us out to make sure the products and services were in line with what he felt his family needed.

This wasn’t about theology; this was all about customer service.

Since we’ve been taught that we’re the center of the universe, we evaluate everything on its ability to meet our needs.  Some of the best communicators of the Scriptures I know have had people leave their churches because they’re not “being fed.”

I know that we’re all the sheep of God, and sheep require a shepherd to feed them.  But there must come a time when we become shepherds who feed others.  Over 60 percent of Americans are overweight or obese.  Is this also true in the arena of personal spirituality?

Are we too much about us getting fed and too little about exercising our faith?

—Erwin McManus in An Unstoppable Force

 

My Response: What changes might I need to make so that my church involvement is about more than consuming “products and services”?

Adapted from An Unstoppable Force (Group, 2001)

 

 

Prayer for the Week:  As your disciple, Lord, I recognize I can’t live a life of faith and faithful service on my own.  Help me to truly connect with Christian community.

Church: It’s Not About Me – The Membership Benefits?

Membership PrivilegesWho Said It … Erwin McManus

Erwin McManus is lead pastor of Mosaic, a congregation that meets in various locations throughout Los Angeles, and founding partner of The Awaken Group, a global leadership development consulting firm.

Erwin is a graduate of the University of North Carolina and Southwestern Theological Seminary. He is the author of several books including Soul Cravings, Wide Awake, and An Unstoppable Force.

He and his wife, Kim, have two children, Aaron and Mariah, and a foster daughter, Paty.

 

What He Said … The Membership Benefits?

Three denominational leaders visited our congregation. “What are the benefits of membership at Mosaic?” they asked.  Their question surprised me.  I suddenly felt like we were American Express.  So I asked our pastoral team what exactly were the benefits of being a member.

One responded, “Members are entrusted with responsibility.”  We started laughing at the irony of realizing that membership was the entryway to service.  The only benefit was the privilege to serve!

Becoming a member of Mosaic is a declaration that you’re moving from being a consumer to being an investor; that you’re joining not simply the community of Christ, but the cause of Christ.

On a deeper level, it is an invitation to genuine intimacy.  People who become members say they’re submitting to the spiritual authority of this community and welcoming genuine accountability in their spiritual journeys.

So up front, we ask for this sincere commitment: to allow God to work in and through them as they invest their passions, their service, their resources, and their relationships for the sake of the Kingdom.

Adapted from An Unstoppable Force (Group, 2001)

 

Prayer for the Week:  As your disciple, Lord, I recognize I can’t live a life of faith and faithful service on my own.  Help me to truly connect with Christian community.

Taking Sin Seriously – The Best Defense…

Protective ShieldQ. Why do I need an early-warning system for sin?

A. Because our sin employs three clever avoidance strategies to avoid detection:

One of those strategies is denial.  Denial says, “Who me? I don’t have a problem.”  How many people have been destroyed by a problem they didn’t have!

A second strategy is rationalization.  This world-class excuse making says, “I know it might look like a problem to some people, but I know all the reasons it isn’t.”

Finally, there’s scapegoating.  It says, “I don’t have a problem.  It’s you that’s the problem.”  Scapegoating is a skunk diverting attention from itself by saying somebody else smells worse.

These attempts to avoid responsibility for our actions must be jettisoned if we desire to please Christ.

How can I strengthen my defenses against temptation?

·         Look at the type of temptation.  Certain temptations have felled us many times in the past.  Satan’s a pragmatist.  He’ll use what’s worked in the past as long as it still works.  So these attacks shouldn’t catch us off guard.

·         Notice the timing of temptations.  Do I know when I’m vulnerable?  How do I react when I’m fatigued?  How do I respond to discouragement?  Have I been undone in the wake of a success?

·         Consider the degree of strength of temptations.  A simple law of biology applies: If we feed something it will grow.  Resolve to deal with your temptations while they are small.  If you indulge and feed them, you may not like what comes back the next time you encounter them.

David Swartz is pastor of Dubuque Baptist Church in Dubuque, Iowa.

Adapted from The Magnificent Obsession (NavPress, 1990)

 

Prayer for the Week:  Forgive me, my Savior, for my denial of, or my cavalier attitude toward, my sins that cost You Your life.

Taking Sin Seriously – Eye to Eye with Evil

HolocaustKey Bible Verse:  Greatly distressed, one by one they began to ask him, “I’m not the one, am I, Lord?”  – Matthew 26:22

Bonus Reading:  Mark 7:14-23

Adolf Eichmann was one of the worst of the Holocaust masterminds.  When he stood trial, prosecutors called a string of former concentration camp prisoners as witnesses.  One was a small, haggard man named Yehiel Dinur, who’d miraculously escaped death in Auschwitz.

On his day to testify, Dinur entered the courtroom and stared at the man—behind the bulletproof glass—who’d presided over the slaughter of millions.  As the eyes of the two men met—victim and murderous tyrant—the courtroom fell silent at the tense confrontation.

Then suddenly, Yehiel Dinur began to sob, collapsing to the floor.  Was he overcome by hatred, by the horrifying memories, by the evil incarnate in Eichmann’s face?

No. As he later explained in an interview, it was because Eichmann was not the demonic personification of evil he’d expected.  Rather, he was an ordinary man, just like anyone else.

In that one instant, Dinur came to the stunning realization that sin and evil are the human condition. “I was afraid about myself,” Dinur said. “I saw that I’m capable to do this … exactly like he.”

Dinur’s shocking conclusion?  “Eichmann is in all of us.”

—Charles Colson in A Dangerous Grace

 

My Response:  How aware am I of my capacity for evil?

 

Thought to Apply:  The line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. —Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn (Russian author)

Adapted from A Dangerous Grace (Word, 1994)

 

 

Prayer for the Week:  Forgive me, my Savior, for my denial of, or my cavalier attitude toward, my sins that cost You Your life.

Taking Sin Seriously – Worse Than You Think

FlamesKey Bible Verse:  We were born with an evil nature, and we were under God’s anger, just like everyone else.  Ephesians 2:3

Bonus Reading: Ephesians 2:1-10

During my late teens and early 20s, I considered myself a Christian.  I went to church regularly, while most of my college classmates slept in.  I went to Bible studies, and worked in an outreach ministry to high school students.  I’d prayed the prayer.

Things changed, though, during the summer between my sophomore and junior years.  I met weekly with a group of friends, who discussed the Scriptures and enjoyed one another’s company.  Following one session, one of the guys asked me if we could meet during the week.  I agreed.

As we sat in his apartment a few days later, he gently but firmly said to me, “I don’t think you get it.  You don’t understand the depth of your sin, and I don’t think you understand the grace of God in offering you His gift of salvation.  He didn’t die on a cross just to give your life purpose and meaning.  You were His sworn enemy, and He came to rescue you from the punishment in hell you deserve!”

His words stung my soul.  I left feeling week in the knees.  For the first time, I found myself humbled before an almighty God who’d chosen to spare my life instead of giving me eternal punishment.

—Robert Lepine in The Christian Husband

 

My Response: In what ways have I been God’s enemy?

 

Thought to Apply: No man ever enters heaven until he is first convinced that he deserves hell. —John Everrett (author)

Adapted from The Christian Husband (Servant, 1999)

 

 

Prayer for the Week:  Forgive me, my Savior, for my denial of, or my cavalier attitude toward, my sins that cost You Your life.

Taking Sin Seriously – Cruel Delights

BB GunKey Bible Verses:  I know perfectly well that what I am doing is wrong … but I can’t help myself.  – Romans 7:16-17

Bonus Reading:  James 1:13-16

On my eighth birthday my parents gave me a BB gun.  This beautiful gun and I formed a deadly partnership.  Cans, bottles, road signs—nothing was safe from us.  Well, almost nothing.

One afternoon I took aim at a bird perched in the willow tree in our backyard.  Just as I was about to squeeze the trigger, my sister, Patsy, ran into the yard waving her arms and yelling.  As the bird fluttered away, her smug smile as good as taunted, “Ha! Ha! I showed you who’s in charge around here.”

Something inside took control. I lowered the barrel and aimed at my sister.  A look of horror replaced her smug confidence, and she took off at a full run.  Sit on this! I thought as I aimed and pulled the trigger.

The BB found its mark.  She grabbed her posterior and darted into the house screaming, “I’ve been shot! I’ve been shot!”  For a moment I wondered what had made me do something so cruel—then I realized how much I enjoyed it.

My dad disciplined me and confiscated my gun.  But while he could take away the tools I used for evil, he wasn’t able to take away that dark side of my personality that enjoyed doing wrong.

—Bill Perkins in When Good Men Are Tempted

 

My Response: When have I enjoyed doing something wrong?

 

Thought to Apply: We are not stray sheep or wandering prodigals even, but rebels taken with weapons in our hands.  —P. T. Forsyth (British pastor and educator)

Adapted from When Good Men Are Tempted (Zondervan, 1997)

 

 

Prayer for the Week:  Forgive me, my Savior, for my denial of, or my cavalier attitude toward, my sins that cost You Your life.

Taking Sin Seriously – The Mask

MaskKey Bible Verse:  For all have sinned; all fall short of God’s glorious standard.  Romans 3:23

Bonus Reading:  Jeremiah 17:9-10

Richard was the kind of kid your folks warned you about.  He was bad news!  A manipulator and a liar, Richard took the stigma of “bad boy” to a new level.

No one who knew him trusted him for very long.  He worked hard to earn the reputation as the troublemaker at our high school.  He had “sinner” written all over him.  After a string of felony convictions, Richard was found dead one morning—murdered after being released from prison on a drug conviction.

Raymond was the all-American kid any dad would want his daughter to date.  He attended church every Sunday and dazzled everyone with his winsome smile.  He was polite and trustworthy.

And Ray was an actor—both in the drama club at school and in real life.  He played the “good guy” role so well that no one suspected his alcoholism and drug addiction.  It was hard to believe that he was capable of what was eventually uncovered.  But in the end the mask came off.

We’d all like to believe that the window to our hearts is beautiful stained glass.  No one wants to admit that the glass is smeared and caked with sin.  The sooner we admit it, the closer we are to having the window cleaned.

—Skip Heitzig in Jesus Up Close

 

My Response: What mask am I wearing? To whom can I admit it?

 

Thought to Apply: All sin, whatever the degree, is equal in its capacity to separate us from God’s heart of love. —George Macdonald (Scottish author)

Adapted from Jesus Up Close (Tyndale, 2001)

 

 

Prayer for the Week:  Forgive me, my Savior, for my denial of, or my cavalier attitude toward, my sins that cost You Your life.

Jumonville 2014

Jumonville Header

The new 2014 summer camp brochure is ready for you!  You can either see it here online, or get one in the mail.  If you attended camp in the last couple of years, your family will get a brochure in the mail.  And if you need extra copies of the brochures for either your family or your friends, you can call the Jumonville office (724) 439-4912 and they will mail them to you, or they can send them directly to your friends if you give them their contact information.  Brochures are also being sent to the churches if you need extra copies.

 

Also by clicking here, you will go to a link to see the brochure in flip book format. Pretty fun and cool. 

Feel free to check out the 2014 summer camp schedule on the Jumonville website.  Remember you can register online, so you don’t have to wait until you get your brochure in the mail.

   

Hope to see you on the Jumonville mountaintop soon.

Son of God: Jesus Returns to the Big Screen

Son of God moviePicture this: A rich orchestral score from Oscar-winner Hans Zimmer, the New Testament story, AND Portuguese actor Diogo Morgado portraying Jesus all in one movie.

 This dream will become a reality when Son of God releases Friday, February 28 in theaters nationwide.

 Did you know that this is the first a full-length  feature about Jesus has been released since The Passion of the Christ came out?

 Wow! That’s kind of a big deal and you WON’T want to miss it.

 Check out the trailer here!

Taking Sin Seriously – In Denial?

In DenialKey Bible Verse:  If we say we have no sin, we are only fooling ourselves and refusing to accept the truth.  1 John 1:8

Bonus Reading:  Romans 1:21-25

Imagine discovering a sore on your arm.  You immediately apply an antiseptic and wait for healing.

But what if the sore is the result of skin cancer?  The surface treatment won’t touch it.  New lesions will appear and the cancer will continue to spread internally.

The Bible teaches that just such a cancer is infecting our souls: sin.  If we suffered from cancer, we’d do whatever was necessary to be healed of its ravages.  So why do we hesitate to seek God’s treatment for the spiritual cancer of sin?

Part of the answer lies in our culture’s discomfort with directly acknowledging this destructive force.  The fields of psychology and sociology, observes social critic Henry Fairlie, contend that “our faults are the result of some kind of mechanical failure, which has only to be diagnosed and understood for us to set it right.”

Psychologist Karl Menninger documented our collective loss of any sense of personal wrongdoing in Whatever Became of Sin?  His book traces how the theological notion of sin became the legal idea of crime and then was relegated to the psychological category of sickness.  Today sin is regarded as little more than a set of emotions fixed in our genes.

—James Emery White in Long Night’s Journey into Day

 

My Response:  What have I viewed as a problem to solve that’s really a sin to confess?

 

Thought to Apply: In the presence of a psychiatrist I can only be a sick man; in the presence of a Christian brother I can dare to be a sinner. —Dietrich Bonhoeffer (German pastor and theologian)

Adapted from Long Night’s Journey into Day (WaterBrook, 2002)

 

 

Prayer for the Week:  Forgive me, my Savior, for my denial of, or my cavalier attitude toward, my sins that cost You Your life.

Martin Luther King, Jr.

Geneva - Martin Luther King Event - 1-20-2014

A Night of the Arts in Honor of Martin Luther King: The Man. The Vision. The Dream.

Monday, January 20—6 p.m. in the Geneva College Student Center

Join us for a classy evening of fellowship and reflection, with live jazz music by the Levels Group featuring percussionist Terry Levels, solo performances and readings of Dr. King’s works.

Find Out More:
http://www.geneva.edu/object/nr_night_of_arts_2014 

Free and open to everyone in the Beaver County area. Hors d’oeuvres will be provided.

Taking Sin Seriously – Squeaky Clean Traitor

SpyKey Bible Verse:  “Are they ashamed when they do these disgusting things?  No, not at all—they don’t even blush”  Jeremiah 6:15; 8:12

Bonus Reading:  Jeremiah 6:13-15; 8:4-13

Robert Philip Hanssen, the former FBI counterintelligence agent, caused the worst intelligence breach in U.S. history.

Ironically, this self-confessed traitor considered himself a devout Christian.  Throughout his 25-year FBI career, Hanssen told friends and colleagues that without religion, men were lost.  When FBI agents held going-away parties at strip clubs near the bureau’s headquarters, Hanssen refused to attend, saying it would be a sin.

When he was arrested on charges that he’d been spying for the Russians since 1985, those who knew him were stunned.  His closest friends and colleagues said they could only guess why a man who seemed to possess such strong Christian faith would engage in anti-American espionage.

In the Charlotte Observer, Philip Shenon speculated that he “must have been able to compartmentalize his life, deluding himself into thinking that espionage was simply an exciting intellectual challenge that had nothing to do with leading a good, moral Christian life.”

—James Emery White in Long Night’s Journey into Day

Adapted from Long Night’s Journey into Day (WaterBrook, 2002)

Prayer for the Week:  Forgive me, my Savior, for my denial of, or my cavalier attitude toward, my sins that cost You Your life.

Christians are the Most Harassed Religious Group

Christians are the Most Harassed Religious GroupThe Government Restrictions Index and Social Hostilities Index each include a measure of the harassment of specific religious groups (GRI.Q.11 and SHI.Q.1.a). Harassment and intimidation by governments or social groups take many forms, including physical assaults; arrests and detentions; desecration of holy sites; and discrimination against religious groups in employment, education and housing. Harassment and intimidation also include things such as verbal assaults on members of one religious group by other groups or individuals.

Harassment or intimidation of specific religious groups occurred in 166 countries in 2012, a six-year high. In 2012, government or social harassment of Muslims was reported in 109 countries; the previous high was 101 countries in the previous year of the study. Jews were harassed in 71 countries in 2012, slightly higher than the year before (69 countries, which was the previous high). Harassment of Christians continued to be reported in the largest number of countries (110), an increase from the previous year (105) but not a six-year high. There also was an increase in the number of countries in which Hindus, Buddhists and members of folk or traditional religions were harassed.

Overall, across the six years of this study, religious groups were harassed in a total of 185 countries at one time or another. Members of the world’s two largest religious groups – Christians and Muslims, who together comprise more than half of the global population – were harassed in the largest number of countries, 151 and 135, respectively.  Jews, who comprise less than 1% of the world’s population, experienced harassment in a total of 95 countries, while members of other world faiths were harassed in a total of 77 countries.

In 2012, some religious groups were more likely to be harassed by governments, while others were more likely to be harassed by individuals or groups in society. Jews, for instance, experienced social harassment in many more countries (66) than they faced government harassment (28). By contrast, members of other world faiths, such as Sikhs and Baha’is, were harassed by some level of government in more countries (35) than they were by groups or individuals in society (21).

Persecution of Christians – 2014 World Watch List

2014 World Watch ListToday, Christianity Today reports that the Pew Research Center has updated its groundbreaking research on religious freedom worldwide.

Twice as many Christians were killed for their faith in 2013 as in 2012, according to the latest report on the world’s top 50 violators of Christian religious freedom.

However, the 2014 World Watch List (see full list below) from Open Doors International—which notes the increased impact of “failed states” and reveals its methodology for the first time—calculates a far lower total for Christian martyrdoms than recent estimates by other groups.

The top 10 nations “where Christians faced the most pressure and violence,” according to the WWL, were North Korea, Somalia, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Maldives, Pakistan, Iran, and Yemen. While North Korea has topped the list for 12 straight years, this is the first time that a sub-Saharan African country took the No. 2 slot.

“Overall, the 2014 list determines that pressure on Christians increased in 34 countries, decreased in five, and remained about the same in the remaining 14,” reports World Watch Monitor. The level of persecution “increased seriously” in eight countries: Syria, Iraq, Pakistan, Sudan, Libya, Egypt, Colombia, and Kazakhstan. By contrast, it “decreased considerably” in two countries: Mali and Tanzania.

The list’s biggest debut: the Central African Republic (CAR), where strife between Muslims and Christians has displaced 1 million people and threatens to spread beyond the country’s borders, the United Nations recently warned.

“Like Mali last year, CAR shows how rapidly a seemingly stable state can disintegrate and a Christian minority or even majority can come to the brink of extinction,” said Open Doors in its press release. The CAR surged from being unranked to No. 16, much as Mali surged from unranked to No. 7 last year. (Mali has now fallen to No. 33.)

When only incidents of violence—including murders, rapes, kidnappings and church burnings—are assessed, the CAR ranks No. 1 worldwide, followed by Syria (though it produced far more martyrs). Rounding out this top 10: Pakistan, Egypt, Iraq, Myanmar, Nigeria, Colombia, Eritrea and Sudan. (The WWL’s overall rankings include both physical violence and other pressures against Christians, and Open Doors notes that violence is not the most prevalent form of religious persecution.)

The rapid rise of the CAR illustrated an increase of persecution in “failed states,” according to Open Doors. Six of the WWL’s top 10 countries—Somalia, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Yemen—fit the organization’s definition of a failed state: “a weak state where social and political structures have collapsed to the point where government has little or no control.”

The report showed “the importance of a stable state as a guardian of religious liberty,” said Ronald Boyd-MacMillan, chief strategy officer who oversees the WWL, in an interview released by the organization.

The rankings continued last year’s trends of increased persecution in African nations and by Islamist extremism, which drove persecution in 36 of the 50 WWL countries, according to the new report.

Sri Lanka (No. 29) and Bangladesh (No. 48) also joined the 2014 list, while Azerbaijan, Uganda, and Kyrgyzstan dropped off entirely. Tanzania dropped significantly from No. 24 to No. 49, while Colombia climbed from No. 46 to No. 25.

The report calculates a total of 2,123 Christians were martyred in 2013, roughly twice the number in 2012. Syria and Nigeria led with 1,213 and 612 martyrs, respectively, followed by Pakistan (88), Egypt (83), Angola (16), Niger (15), Iraq (11), the CAR (9), and Colombia (8).

The difficult practice of measuring Christian martyrdoms worldwide drew scrutiny this year. Estimates range from 1,000 to 100,000. World Watch Monitor explains why the WWL count is so low.

In determining the degree of persecution, the report’s methodology separately assesses governmental and societal persecution. A groundbreaking 2009 report by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life found a high correlation between social hostilities and government restrictions. CT charted the comparisons between the Pew list and the WWL.

Open Doors claims the WWL is “the only annual survey of religious liberty conditions of Christians around the world,” and explains:

[The WWL] measures the degree of freedom Christian have to live out their faith in five spheres of life – private, family, community, national and church life, plus a sixth sphere measuring the degree of violence. The methodology counts each sphere equally and is designed specifically to track the deep structures of persecution, and not merely incidents.

For the first time, Open Doors has published the methodology of the report, also having it independently audited by the International Institute for Religious Freedom, which praised the study.

“Above all, we want others to join in and help improve our standards and catalyze more study of the Persecuted Church, so that the sum of our knowledge will increase,” Boyd-MacMillan said.

The purpose of the report is to “create effective anger,” leading people to pray and act on behalf of persecuted Christians, he said. “It creates awareness and it requires a strategic response. And great research is the only way that effective anger can be produced.”

Brian Grim, a senior religion researcher at the Pew Research Center, told World Watch Monitor the good news behind such reports:

Reports like the World Watch List, and those we produce at Pew Research Center, stimulate discussion and action among groups such as the United Nations, the European Parliament and the U.S. Congress. In 2011 alone, the sources used in the latest Pew Research study reported that 76 percent of countries had government or societal initiatives to reduce religious restrictions or hostilities.

CT reported on the WWL rankings in 2009, 2012, and 2013, including a spotlight on where it’s hardest to believe. CT also noted how the State Department and USCIRF disagree on which countries deserves censure for mistreating religious minorities, as well as how, ironically, many nations on the WWL are bad for Christians but good for distributing Bibles.

Here is a summary of the 2014 World Watch List and how countries changed rank from 2013. Descriptions of persecution in all 50 countries can be found here:  http://www.worldwatchmonitor.org/research/2925458

Top 10 Most Shared Bible Verses of 2013

Top 10 Most Shared Bible Verses of 2013YouVersion has released its year-end analysis of how its millions of users engaged the Bible this past year.

Users shared 68 million Bible verses in 2013 via the uber-popular Bible app, installed 49 million times this year (and nearly123 million times worldwide).

The Bible verse that was “bookmarked, highlighted, and shared … more than any other verse” in 2013?  Philippians 4:13:  “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

Rounding out the top five: Isaiah 40:31, Matthew 6:13, Joshua 1:9, and Philippians 4:6.

By comparison, the Bible’s most-read chapter was Romans 8—”read 4 times per second in 2013,” notes YouVersion.  The other top chapters were Romans 12, Matthew 5, 1 John 4, and Hebrews 12.

The top 10 most-shared Bible verses, as well as other YouVersion insights, are in the infographic below. Meanwhile, YouVersion’s recently released Bible App for Kids has already reached 2 million downloads.

Last year, CT noted how the Web’s most-popular Bible verses match up – except for John 3:16. Once again, the key verse which ranks high among other digital Bibles failed to make YouVersion’s top list.

Christmas: Why It Still Matters – The Miracle of Christmas

The Miracle of ChristmasToday’s study passage is undoubtedly the Bible’s most familiar Christmas story. It’s the passage that has inspired many Christmas pageants, and it’s the passage that gives the best glimpse of Jesus’ birth in that straw-filled manger, and it’s the story that reveals heaven’s angels announcing the birth of the Savior.

But don’t let familiarity push you away from taking a fresh look at Luke’s incredible narrative.  

Approach it prayerfully—and with the humility of a Christmas shepherd—and you might just be surprised by what you’ll find.

Key Study Passage:  Luke 2:1-20

  1. How did God use a Roman emperor (vv. 1-2) to bring about his plans?  (See Micah 5:2.) What does this tell us about God’s power over even the most powerful rulers?

 

  1. Why is it significant that Joseph was a “descendent of David” (v. 4)?  (See Isa. 11:1.)

 

  1. What do the circumstances of Jesus’ birth (vv. 7, 12) communicate about this newborn king?  (See Phil. 2:6-8; Mark 2:13-17.)

 

  1. In verses 9-12, what was the good news that the angel delivered to the shepherds?  (See also Isa. 52:7; 61:1.)

 

  1. What applicable truths can you take from the shepherd’s experience (vv. 8-18, 20)?

 

Spend Time in Prayer:  Re-read Luke 2:1-20, reflecting on parts that stand out to you; thank God for Christmas and for sending his Son to earth; pray that the excitement of the shepherds will fill your heart all year long.

 

Luke 2:1-20

The Birth of Jesus

1 At that time the Roman emperor, Augustus, decreed that a census should be taken throughout the Roman Empire. 2 (This was the first census taken when Quirinius was governor of Syria.) 3 All returned to their own ancestral towns to register for this census. 4 And because Joseph was a descendant of King David, he had to go to Bethlehem in Judea, David’s ancient home. He traveled there from the village of Nazareth in Galilee. 5 He took with him Mary, his fiancée, who was now obviously pregnant.

6 And while they were there, the time came for her baby to be born. 7 She gave birth to her first child, a son. She wrapped him snugly in strips of cloth and laid him in a manger, because there was no lodging available for them.

The Shepherds and Angels

8 That night there were shepherds staying in the fields nearby, guarding their flocks of sheep. 9 Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified, 10 but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. 11 The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David! 12 And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.”

13 Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others—the armies of heaven—praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in highest heaven,
and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.”

15 When the angels had returned to heaven, the shepherds said to each other, “Let’s go to Bethlehem! Let’s see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

16 They hurried to the village and found Mary and Joseph. And there was the baby, lying in the manger. 17 After seeing him, the shepherds told everyone what had happened and what the angel had said to them about this child. 18 All who heard the shepherds’ story were astonished, 19 but Mary kept all these things in her heart and thought about them often. 20 The shepherds went back to their flocks, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen. It was just as the angel had told them.

 

 

Prayer for the Week:  Father, don’t let me get so caught up in the frenzy of the holidays that I forget what it’s all about; amid it all, may I take time for peaceful reflection and joyful celebration of my Savior’s birth.

Christmas: Why It Still Matters – The Birth of Easter

Christmas and EasterKey Bible Verse:  And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.  – John 1:14, ESV

Dig Deeper:  John 1:1-14

In John 12:23-24, we read, “And Jesus answered them, saying, ‘The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit'” (ESV).

John Donne, in The Book of Uncommon Prayers, says, “The whole of Christ’s life was a continual passion; others die martyrs, but Christ was born a martyr.

He found a Golgotha, where he was crucified, even in Bethlehem, where he was born; for to his tenderness then the straws were almost as sharp as the thorns after, and the manger as uneasy at first as the cross at last.

His birth and his death were but one continual act, and his Christmas Day and his Good Friday are but the evening and the morning of one and the same day.  From the creche to the cross is an inseparable line. Christmas only points forward to Good Friday and Easter. It can have no meaning apart from that, where the Son of God displayed his glory by his death.”

Grace is a person; Truth is a person—Jesus, come to you in the flesh.

—Joseph “Skip” Ryan in Come Thou Long-Expected Jesus

 

My Response:  What I personally appreciate most about the story of Christmas is …

 

Thought to Apply:  Immanuel, God with us in our nature, in our sorrow, in our lifework, in our punishment, in our grave, and now with us, or rather we with him, in resurrection, ascension, triumph, and Second Advent splendor. —Charles Spurgeon (British preacher)

Adapted from Come Thou Long-Expected Jesus (Crossway, 2008).

 

 

Prayer for the Week:  Father, don’t let me get so caught up in the frenzy of the holidays that I forget what it’s all about; amid it all, may I take time for peaceful reflection and joyful celebration of my Savior’s birth.

Christmas: Why It Still Matters – True Baby, Real God

Baby Jesus 2Key Bible Verse:  “For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.”  John 3:16

Dig Deeper:  John 3:13-21

Let us imagine that we are with the shepherds on those hills in Palestine.  We have seen and heard the angels, and we have begun to run to Bethlehem.  We come bursting into the presence of Mary, Joseph, and the baby, and immediately we wonder: What are we looking at?

First of all, we are looking at a true baby.  He is not an idea or a religious experience.  He is a newborn infant who makes noises and cries when he gets hungry.

There is no reason to think that the baby shows any special manifestations.  An artist can paint him with light emanating from his body, and if we understand the light as symbolic, it is safe enough.

But if we think of it as more than that, it is harmful.  There is no halo about the baby’s head. Certainly there is no halo around Mary’s head.

What we see is a young Jewish mother.  We see her husband, and we see a little baby who does not show any marks that would distinguish him from any other infant.  And yet this little baby we see lying here is God who has taken on flesh.

Why did God come?  Only the scriptural answer will suffice: The second person of the Trinity has been born because he loves the world.

—Francis Schaeffer in Come Thou Long-Expected Jesus

 

My Response:  I will reflect on the truth that Jesus was both a baby and God of the universe.

 

Thought to Apply:  The mystery of Christ, that he sunk himself into our flesh, is beyond all human understanding. —Martin Luther (leader of the Protestant Reformation)

Adapted from Come Thou Long-Expected Jesus (Crossway, 2008).

 

 

Prayer for the Week:  Father, don’t let me get so caught up in the frenzy of the holidays that I forget what it’s all about; amid it all, may I take time for peaceful reflection and joyful celebration of my Savior’s birth.

Christmas: Why It Still Matters – Messengers in Burlap

Shepherds in the FieldKey Bible Verse:  The sheepherders returned and let loose, glorifying and praising God for everything they had heard and seen.  It turned out exactly the way they’d been told!  Luke 2:20, The Message)

Dig Deeper:  Luke 2:15-20

No Christmas program is complete without its little band of gunnysack shepherds.  Frightened by the angel’s sudden appearance, they marvel at the Good News from the angel and rush to Bethlehem.

As they return to their flocks, they praise God and tell all who will listen about the birth of the chosen Child. They then leave the stage, and we hardly give them another thought.

But why did the announcement come to them at all?  Why should they receive history’s greatest birth announcement?

In Christ’s day, shepherds stood on the bottom rung of the social ladder.  They shared the same unenviable status as tax collectors and dung sweepers.

What an affront to the religious leaders who were so conspicuously absent from the divine mailing list.  Even from birth, Christ moved among the lowly.  It was the sinners, not the self-righteous, he came to save (Mark 2:17).

As we gaze on nativity scenes and smile at those gunnysack shepherds, let’s not lose sight of the striking irony.  A handful of shepherds, marginalized by the social and religious elite, were chosen to break the silence of centuries, heralding Messiah’s birth.

—Randy Alcorn in Come Thou Long-Expected Jesus

 

My Response:  What does today’s reading tell me about status and title?  What does it say about those God came to save?

 

Thought to Apply:  How surprising and significant that Father God handpicked lowly, unpretentious shepherds to first hear the joyous news: “It’s a boy, and he’s Messiah!”—Randy Alcorn (writer)

Adapted from Come Thou Long-Expected Jesus (Crossway, 2008).

 

Prayer for the Week:  Father, don’t let me get so caught up in the frenzy of the holidays that I forget what it’s all about; amid it all, may I take time for peaceful reflection and joyful celebration of my Savior’s birth.

Whose Fresh Start?: New Year’s Day

Happy New YearBible Verse:  “Set up the Tabernacle on the first day of the new year.” … So the Tabernacle was set up on the first day of the new year.  Exodus 40:2, 17

All the components and furnishings of the tabernacle have been made according to detailed instructions received at Mt. Sinai.  Now comes the command to set up the tabernacle on the first day of the new year.  

Still today, the New Year in many cultures is the time for a fresh start. Some express this in New Year’s resolutions, but here it is God, not us, who has initiated the new beginning, as He did on the same date after the flood.  (Genesis 8:13, footnote in NLT).

On both occasions God acted in mercy and forgiveness after human rebellion, guaranteeing a way forward.  The tabernacle is a sign of God’s intention from the beginning, when He walked in His pleasure garden with the man and woman.  He will continue to meet with people.

The tabernacle materials are ready, but the go-ahead is given by the Lord; the initiative remains His.  Anointing both objects and priests by sprinkling them with oil highlights their dedicated function.  Every part and activity shows that here is God’s provision for meeting with Him.

How much more is this so, now that we experience God meeting us in Christ through His Spirit?  His presence in our midst is a pointer to His purposes for the whole of His creation.

God’s initiative in our lives brings newness, and beyond God’s present provision we look for yet more wonderful changes.

Viewed like this, New Year’s Day has all the makings of a sacred holiday.

—T.M. Moore in Encounter with God