Christian Church, christian encouragement, Uncategorized

It Started With Don’t Gather, Don’t Sing


Two summers ago I was blessed with the opportunity to visit Prague in the Czech Republic. It’s only been since 1993 that this country became free from the bonds of communism. It was amazing to see the vibrant growth and renewal throughout the city. And yet the ravages of communism were still evident. You could sit at a street corner and watch the traffic go by and all the city busses. What I realized was there were no busses made after the 1960s. There were 50s era street cars, which were quaint. But no modern busses. It was as though life stopped when the money ran out. Democracy and capitalism take awhile to take hold — people trained to fear innovation and freedom need to adjust to the light.


I had heard about the Museum of Communism in Prague, established in 2001. The description of it is, “an immersive look at life behind the Iron Curtain.” But it was much more than that. I’ve told my friends that every single US student should visit this museum. It’s a stark, educational, hold no punches, recording of the dangers of communism. What has stayed with me were the photos of priests being led away by secret police. Hundreds of priest were killed in order to control religion. At first, churches were allowed to function only under state control. The government decided who were favored priests and who were not. The government decided which liturgies could be celebrated and which could not. And those who did not comply were shot. Priests that were “approved” were paid by the government to acquire their loyalty. In 1950, the government seized all church properties. They plundered over 1,000 church buildings, stealing thousands of works of art and religious artifacts. The approved churches began to lose parishioners as they were associated with the repressive government. The end result? The Czech Republic is considered one of the least religious countries in Europe.

Czech Catholic priest Josef Toufar, the “Miracle Priest” who died from torture at the hands of the Communist secret service (StB) in 1950.

Joseph Bondarenko, a Russian evangelical minister, didn’t give in to the communist regime. He was expelled from university for illegally engaging in religious activities in the Soviet Union. He was undeterred. He was put in prison multiple times. He took to heart the lessons the disciples wrote in the New Testament. When we make serving God our priority we will have eternal blessings. Recently, when speaking with worship leader and founder of Let Us Worship, Sean Feucht, Bondarenko spoke of the signs of communism creeping into our society. He said,

“Don’t they realize what is happening now in America is exactly what happened to us in communist Russia? It started with ‘Don’t gather. Don’t sing. Spread apart. Listen to the government.’ Then it quickly turned into full on persecution and the church did not wake up in time.”

Joseph Bondarenko

You may be reading this and thinking, “that’s not going to happen in America.” In California we are told we cannot meet in our churches. We cannot sing. Indefinitely. We must listen to the government. And the majority of our pastors are compliant. Some have rebelled. The ones that rebel are vilified in our media — and by “Christians.” My friend who is not Christian doesn’t understand. She tells me if Christians think God is all mighty and who we should solely put our faith in then why aren’t all pastors rebelling?

In my Bible study group the other day we were talking about the loss of being with our church families. Praising God in community and raising our collective voices. I told them my fear is we will become like the Czech Republic. Where, once our churches are “allowed” to open, that no one or few will come. Our churches, our pastors, our faith leaders chose government over God. How can we move forward with them as our guides? They espouse “faith over fear” yet, fear is exactly what they have taught us these last six months.

The prophet Haggai was tasked to admonish the Israelites about rebuilding the temple in the year 520. But the Jews gave excuses. They said the economy wasn’t good enough. They said maybe God didn’t really want them to do it. They said they needed to take care of their own needs first. And yet, they continued to complain about the drought and their oppression. Warren Wiersbe’s commentary on Haggai 1:1-4 is,

When we put God first and give Him what’s rightfully His, we open the door to spiritual enrichment and the kind of stewardship that honors God.

May we open our Christian eyes sooner, not later, to obey God’s command to rebuild His temple.

On a warm summer evening my husband and I were enjoying a walk along Prague’s Vltava River. We crossed over one of the beautiful bridges, heading to a park. We stopped in the middle to enjoy the view. I started humming along to a song I could hear off in the distance. As we got closer to the park, the music got louder. I kept thinking how familiar that song sounded. We took the steps down from the bridge into a park where a small concert was being held. And it hit me. Singing in Czech, was a band playing a Christian praise song. And all around — about 100 young people — were people singing, lifting hands in the name of our Lord. In this town that had seemingly lost its faith, faith was being re-born. He never forsakes us. He calls us back into His loving arms.

30daysofpraise, christian encouragement, Uncategorized

The Great Interpreter


Have you ever watched a speech where a sign language professional was interpreting for the hard of hearing community?  I always wonder if they are truly interpreting the speech correctly.  In fact, in 2013 at a world televised memorial to Nelson Mandela, advocates for the deaf called out an interpreter as fake.  “The man, who stood about a yard from (President) Obama and other leaders was moving his hands around, but there was no meaning in what he used his hands for,” said Bruno Druchen, national director of the Deaf Federation of South Africa.  At times, as a Christian I have felt what those watching this man wave around his hands in meaningless gestures must have felt – confused.    

I’ve heard a few “fake” interpreters of God’s Word. From hate-filled pastors such Fred Phelps of Westboro Baptist Church and Bishop Talbert Swan of the Church of God in Christ to more subtle false “prosperity” teachers like Joel Olsteen and T.D. Jakes, the Word of God has been twisted, edited, and completely ignored. And yet there are hundreds if not thousands of people who follow these “pastors'” preaching. Why? Because we all are looking for answers — for someone to interpret God’s plan for us. Some of us want quick and easy answers. Some of us just want answers that fit our sinful needs and desires.

In the Old Testament, God communicated through people like Moses, Samuel, Jeremiah and others to relay His commands to the people of Israel.  There were also false prophets who claimed to interpret for the gods. The people turned to both kinds of prophets for guidance.  God swiftly punished those who disobeyed His Word. The great shift came when God sent himself, in the form of Jesus, to speak directly with His creations.  Jesus became our great interpreter – explaining the Father’s purpose for His chosen ones.  He didn’t speak to nations like so many of the prophets of old did– He spoke with us as individuals and groups.  He gathered up people at wells, in gardens, in homes, at lakes and even at graves. He warned us about false prophets and teachers. But His Word cannot be denied. It is written in the oldest book. And although there are various translations of the Bible, His Words stay pretty much the same. It amazes me to hear people, especially angry hate-filled Christians, espouse rights or wrongs that don’t exist in the Bible. I just say, show me the scripture.

When I find myself wondering what God wants from me or a direction I should take, I go directly to Jesus’ words. He was not one to speak meaninglessly.  He didn’t speak out of hatred. He rarely showed anger. And when He did speak it was as though He was allotted a certain number of words to use while here on Earth.  And He used them wisely.

Praying for Help

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.” Matthew 7:7

Who to Trust

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” Matthew 22: 37

On Kindness

“Love your neighbor as yourself.” Matthew 22:39

How to Attain Peace

“Do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself.  Let the day’s own trouble be sufficient for the day.” 

Salvation

“I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.  No one comes to the Father except for me.” John 14:6

Grace

“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” 2 Cor 12:9

Sinful Behavior

“Very truly I tell you, everyone who sins is a slave to sin.” John 8:34

Jesus not only was the son of God, he was us.  He lived among us to experience the temptations, the persecution, the love, betrayal, and loyalties in everyday life.  I praise Jesus today for coming to us to interpret the mind of God for us frail, limited humans.  Our eyes and ears and minds have a glimpse into heaven through His actions and words.  And God wasn’t done when His son when up to heaven.  His Holy Spirit continues the work as our individual, tailored guide.  She whispers to us and laughs with us and cries with us.

I don’t walk in the wilderness so much anymore. And with Jesus’ Words I am very discerning about my spiritual leaders.  My guide, my interpreter, is always by my side.  He will show me the way home. Praise God.

Did you figure out what the sign language word is in the picture?  “Grace.” Enjoy this ASL interpreted song, “In Christ Alone” by clicking on the video below.