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Lessons We Can Learn From the Mormon Church

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As I write this blog post, I am with our Utah Mission Team as we conclude our 2016 trip to Manti, Utah. Our team this year consisted of 37 folks; 26 from First Family Church, and 11 from Crossway Community Church in Wisconsin, where John and Jenny Andrus are members. Keith and Nikki Ryan and their two oldest daughters also joined us from their new home in Reno, NV.

The most exciting aspect of our Utah Mission Trip is seeing our young people engaging in ministry and in street evangelism. What else can top seeing a 14 or 15-year-old student sharing their faith and the gospel with an LDS student of the same age? This is the cherry on top of all of the hard training and preparation for the trip!

Nothing can help cement the gospel into the heart of a young person like being forced to defend their faith in conversation with a person with a very different belief system.

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Utah is a changing landscape when it comes to the LDS church. Not unlike the evangelical church, the leadership team in Utah sees a massive shift towards secularism within the younger generation of Latter Day Saints. Because of the Internet and the influence of television and movies, the Mormon church is struggling against a tide of secularism that is invading their ranks.

One Manti veteran who is on his 17th annual trip to Utah told our team he has seen a seismic shift in the last 10 years. There was a time when he knew what answers to expect when in conversation with a Mormon regardless of the age. Now, he sees a distinct difference between the older generations (35 years and up) and the younger generations. The younger generation sounds more "Christian" in their conversation, but they are just as lost. This makes witnessing to them even more difficult, because their doctrine is a blend of Mormonism and Christianity, yet they are missing the essential elements of the gospel, and are therefore unbelievers.

There is still a tremendous need for solid, Christian churches in Utah. Those who live in Utah tell of news reports that suggest as many as two-thirds of Utah Mormons are not active in the church and are transitioning out of Mormonism, but instead of turning to a healthy church, they simply fade into agnosticism or even atheism. One Utah resident, who is active on a weekly basis ministering to Mormons, told our team there is a tremendous need for churches that would simply focus on reaching families who are transitioning out of Mormonism.

Our Church Is Not Immune to the Influence of Secularism

For those of us who are comfortable and secure in our Christian homes and churches, we need to observe what is happening to the Mormon Church and how it is being impacted by the secular society in which we live. Sometimes it is easier to see how trends like secularism are impacting someone else than to see how the same trends are impacting us.

As I watch the shifting landscape within the American Church, I see several trends that suggest to me we are approaching a tipping point within the Church. Each generation must struggle with new dynamics within the culture and how they impact the church. The last major shift within the Protestant church happened in the 1960s. Visit with our grandparents, who were Methodist, Lutheran, Presbyterian, or any of the other mainline denominations, and we would learn how orthodox and doctrinally sound these churches were in the mid-20th Century. Yet, we would also see liberalism invading the church and destroying the institutions of the church, starting with the seminaries.

In response to the shift to liberalism, we saw the the rise of the Evangelical Megachurch movement. By the mid-1970s, churches like Willow Creek Community Church and Saddleback Community Church were starting to form, and by the mid-to-late 1980s, these churches were transforming the model and philosophy of the church. They were no longer strongly tied to a denomination, and essentially began to serve as their own denomination in areas of missions and church partnerships.

Today, I believe we are seeing a shift away from the Megachurch model. Many of these churches are becoming murky in their doctrine and beliefs and continue to follow the impulses of culture in an effort to grow their church. These multi-million dollar corporations continue to expand their influence through franchises and largely human-driven efforts, but their impact is diminishing. In 10 years, I believe we will see many of these Megachurches following the way of the mainline churches--physically large an impressive, but spiritually dead.

Over and over again, starting with the Tower of Babel, we see God frustrate and ultimately abandon movements by man that begin to build upon the strength and wisdom of man. God desires a faithful people who have one desire––to worship Him in Spirit and Truth. It is His Kingdom and His dominion, but man is often motivated by building his own kingdom and spreading his own dominion. Even when we do so in the Name of God, our motives can easily become infected with pride.

For me, this has been one of the lessons we need to take away from our time in Utah. It is a blessing to see our young people growing in their faith and striving to share the gospel with others, but at the same time, we are not immune to the disease that is impacting the LDS Church. The world and its ways are attractive, and each generation must make the choice whether to go the broad, inviting way of the world or follow God along a narrow, ancient path.

Thus says the Lord:
“Stand in the ways and see,
And ask for the old paths, where the good way is,
And walk in it;
Then you will find rest for your souls.
But they said, ‘We will not walk in it.’"

The Peril of Complacency

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In The Lord of the Rings, Frodo and his company are commissioned with the daunting and dangerous task of dispatching a special ring––an object of nefarious power. It is an undertaking riddled with jeopardy and peril. But in just a short amount of time, the perceived success of the initial part of the expedition causes some within the company to relax and forget the formidable and exposed nature of their endeavor. Only a short time into the journey, vigilance gives way to complacency.

This mental leisure leads to a poignant scene in Peter Jackson's film The Fellowship of the Ring (2001), where the unwitting hobbits teeter into a tavern called The Prancing Pony. Upon entering, their sober acuity is replaced with a lackadaisical spirit as they carelessly indulge in a time of revelry and amusement. Watching from the shadowed corner of the frolicking room is a man who himself is not carousing or joking––but is soberly watching them. Unbeknownst to the hobbits, at the exact time they have lowered their defenses, a vicious group of murderous pursuers are closing in on them. At the apex of the hobbits complacent gaiety, this ranger (who we later know to be Aragorn) whisks the ring-bearer away to a hidden room. The ranger sternly asks a fretful-looking Frodo, "Are you frightened?" With an aghast look on his face, Frodo says "Yes." The ranger tersely retorts "Not nearly frightened enough. I know what hunts you."

com-pla-cen-cy
/kəmˈplāsənsē
noun
An uncritical satisfaction and settling after success that often leads to digression
Linked concepts: Lethargy, carelessness, inattentiveness, laziness
 

Spiritually speaking, my own propensity is to be more like Frodo than Aragorn. My natural fleshly disposition is to drift toward comfort and carelessness. Over time, I find myself cutting corners in the disciplines of Bible study, prayer, fasting, and meditation. I find myself rain-checking prayer with my wife. I find myself losing ground with family worship at home. I find myself postponing commitments to evangelize, encourage, and edify others. Complacency is the constant battle of the committed Christian.

And for the inattentive Christian, complacency may shipwreck them.

Because complacency stems from pride and self-sufficiency, it produces ruinous effect––it ravages, desecrates, pollutes, and victimizes lives, families, and churches. Many biblical examples serve as an example as to the clandestine power of complacency. It misled Moses. It corrupted Lot. It betrayed Achan. It ruined Solomon. It sabotaged Uzziah. It imploded Israel. It outflanked Peter. It polluted Laodicea. It infected Demas.

And it continues to wreak havoc today. In fact, it has ambushed and obliterated many of my own friends and even some of my ministry co-laborers. No believer is immune from this slippery villain; not even the pastors of First Family. We must not allow complacency to infiltrate the bulwarks of our hearts, marriages, homes, or church.

My friends, vigilance is necessary (1 Peter 5:8). The word vigilance (γρηγορέω) means to be conscious of danger and not fall asleep; to pay careful attention for pitfalls and threats; to guard something of great value.

My friends, we cannot become spiritually sluggish or self-secure––believing somehow that our profession, our church attendance, or our past success will make us immune to the calamitous effects of complacency.

No, it is a sinister enemy that will slither into the crevices of any inattentive believer.

Instead, we must fight the wiles of our flesh (Rom. 7:14–23); we must stay alert to the subterfuge of Satan (1 Pet. 5:8) and dispel his lies with divine weaponry (Eph. 6:11); we must strangle pride and forsake the notion of self-security (1 Cor. 10:12); we must not waste time on trivialities (Eph. 5:15–16); we must endure hardship and strive for sanctification (Phil. 2:12); we must prioritize prayer to keep us alert (Col. 4:2); we must guard our hearts from contaminating influences (Prov. 4:23); and we must work together, not independently (1 Thess. 5:11).

In the end, Frodo and the hobbits realized the precariousness of complacency and the value of vigilance.

May we as well.

in Blogs

Trending Reads | June

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Welcome to Trending Reads, a monthly post from Pastor Travis Walker that includes current articles on all things Christianity, as well as blog posts that will help you grow in your Christian walk. Without further adieu:


10 Ways to Grow Your Marriage While Having Young Kids

My wife, Esther, and I live in a small parsonage next to our church. So does Isaiah. So does Naomi.

With biblical names like these, you’d think Isaiah and Naomi would be the ideal roommates. But we’ve noticed that Isaiah (who just turned 3) can be pretty moody, and Naomi (who just turned 1) has a powerful set of vocal chords.  

I love being a parent, and we have awesome kids. They give me so much joy. But it’s not always easy. Having kids permanently changes marriage. You try to have a conversation, and you’re constantly interrupted; you plan time to connect and you’re completely exhausted; you try to plan a date night and then realize how expensive a babysitter is. You get the idea.

Lately, I’ve been thinking about something my mom once said: being a parent, for all the strains it can put on your marriage, also allows your marriage to grow deeper and richer. It’s like going into battle with someone, coming home, and then realizing what good friends you’ve become because you were in the trenches together. So I’m learning to see this challenging season as an opportunity for our marriage, not merely a phase to endure.

After my walk with Christ, nothing should take a higher priority in my life than cultivating intimacy and friendship with my wife—not even being a dad. In fact, I know I can’t be the dad God calls me to be unless my marriage is strong. Here are some strategies we’ve reflected on that might be helpful to other young parents in a similar season of life.

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Four Ways for Fathers to Engage at Home

The impact that engaged fathers have on significantly reducing at-risk-behavior in their children has been well documented. Additionally, fathers who are physically and emotionally engaged lead to increased cognitive development, emotional health, and positive peer-relationships in their children’s lives. This pattern points to God’s design for families to function with men as active participants, not passive observers.

As men who desire to follow Jesus, honor God, and lead our families, we are not simply called to be present but engaged fathers — and engaged husbands as well. Before we can begin to lead our children well, we must first pursue an actively growing marriage with our wives. Men are meant to be participant-leaders in the home.

Admittedly, it is often difficult to remain engaged at home. After a long day, it is easy to detach from our family and enter the worlds of media, technology, and sports. Our minds are occupied with the work we left behind or looking forward to the sleep that is to come, but God calls us to more as husbands and fathers. 

Here are four ways, among many, that men can be more engaged at home.

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The Gospel Was Given for a Time Like This

There are days when it is hard to read the news. I open my browser and see another set of headlines, I open my blog reader and see another collection of stories, and I despair. If it is not wars and rumors of war, it is other indicators that this world is sick and dying and in its death throes. I enjoy Al Mohler’s daily podcast and often listen to it while preparing and eating my breakfast, but a scan of recent headlines reminds me why I sometimes just want to climb straight back in bed: “Dolls for boys? Christians must recognize that even the toy aisle reflects a worldview.” “For celebrities, saving the elephants is the latest fad. Unborn babies? Not so much.” “When it comes to sexuality, what happens when a society’s only moral factor is consent?”  

I am not convinced that things are a whole lot worse now than they were tens or hundreds or thousands of years ago. Rather, we have learned to move information faster and farther while at the same time making the world grow smaller. This has left us trapped in what Neil Postman told us is as an endless cycle of cynicism and impotence where we learn all kinds of news and information but have no ability to do anything about it. We hear it all, we feel it all, but we can take no action. All that’s left to do is despair.

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Don't Waste Your Summer

It’s almost here. The weather is finally getting warmer (at least here in Michigan). Spirits are up. The days are long. The end of school is nigh. The unofficial beginning of season–Memorial Day weekend–is right around the corner.

Which means in a little over three months we’ll all be moaning, “Where did the summer go? I can’t believe it’s over.” So what can we do over the next hundred days or so to help alleviate that feeling of loss? Or to put it positively, what can we do to make the most of June, July, and August? Here are twenty suggestions.

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in Prayer

Praying According to God's Will

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Praying is the priceless privilege of the sons and daughters of God.

Yet, it’s not a “give me whatever I want” type of attitude that should characterize us when we pray, but rather an “according to your will” mindset. Just what is meant by this phrase “according to your will” and how do we practice this type of praying?

In my opinion, praying “according to your will” involves at least three things:

1. Praying in the Spirit. Since we don’t know how we should pray, at least in times of trial (Rom 8), the Spirit intercedes for us. Paul also encouraged this kind of praying in Eph 6. Who knows the will of God better than the Spirit of God?

So praying in the Spirit — allowing God the Holy Spirit to intercede for us — is part of praying according to his will.

2. Praying in Jesus’ name. This is where we get any and all authority to enter God’s presence so confidently and boldly, so praying according to his will must mean, to some degree, not approaching God on our own merit. So though we come boldly, we come dependently, and humbly.

We assume nothing, but only cling to Christ’s work as the basis for all our requests. If that attitude of dependence slips into an attitude of assumption, we’re not praying according to his will. It is precisely this attitude of dependence that, like Jesus, causes us to cry out in prayer, “Not my will but yours!” Anyone truly dependent upon Jesus in prayer will understand that God’s will is foremost, just as Jesus understood this in the garden.

Praying in his name is not only our way of clinging to his authority, but also of modeling his attitude.

3. Praying in line with the Word. This is probably where most of our requests go awry. The Bible is filled with specific ways to pray — for our enemies, unselfishly, forgivingly, unceasingly, to name a few.

Since God’s Word reveals God’s will, we can assert quite clearly that praying in a manner inconsistent with God’s Word isn’t praying according to his will. As Gary DeLashmutt, one of the teaching pastors at Xenos Christian Fellowship, says, “The more your perspective is soaked in God’s Word, the more you will pray according to its priorities, and the more you will see God answer your requests (Jn.15:7).”

My opinion? If these three are the first things we aim for in our prayer, whatever other mystery and complexity is involved in praying “according to his will” will not be a problem, for we will be so delighted by God and in God that we wouldn’t want anything other than God!

Posted by Todd Stiles with 0 Comments
Tags: bible, god, prayer, will

Christianity in South Korea

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Since I arrived in Seoul, South Korea in February 2015, I was in awe of the many steeples that dotted the mountainous skyline throughout the city.

According to The Center for the Study of Global Christianity at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, South Korea sends out 1,014 missionaries per 1 million church members, putting them at number five on the list of missionary sending countries in the world.

How did this once predominantly Shamanistic (and later Buddhist) nation turn out to be one of the top missionary senders in the world in such a short amount of time? As a Christian history geek, I was eager to find out.  

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to tour Yanghwajin Foreign Missionary Cemetery in Seoul with a local English ministry I serve alongside. We set up an English tour guide to take us through the cemetery and accompanying museum. 

Overlooking the Han River, the cemetery is surrounded by large, modern buildings. The guide explained to us that when Catholic missionaries came to Korea in the late 1700’s and early 1800’s, the king sentenced them to death along with thousands of newly converted Koreans. To sum it up, the main problem that Korea had with Christianity at the time was the fact that, under God, we are all equal. Traditional Korean society had (and still has) many cultural barriers due to age hierarchy, as well as economic status. 

Over the next few decades, a handful of missionaries tried to enter Korea, but most were killed almost immediately upon arrival. One soldier was even later converted after he killed a missionary, when he later discovered and read the missionary’s bible.

In 1863, things began to look up for missionaries to enter the Hermit Kingdom. King Gojong, the final king of the Joseon Dynasty, came into power wanting to establish diplomatic relations with western civilizations. Finally, the door was opened for missionaries to freely come to Korea. These missionaries were able to minister to the physical needs of the people by providing medical care, opening schools, and caring for orphans. 

I don’t have enough space to write about every single missionary buried in this cemetery, as there were so many, but I picked out a handful who caught my eye to give you a few highlights.

Henry Appenzeller came to Korea before it was legal to preach in public. He set up a missionary house and traveled on foot and bicycle around Korea preaching the Gospel. Even though he wasn’t a doctor, he was able to save many lives with only a little training in western medical care. At the time, all Bibles were written in Chinese, which was only studied by the royalty and upper-class citizens. Appenzeller opened a publishing company that provided the first Bibles to Koreans written in the common language. 

Sooda Gaichi was a drunkard who collasped and almost died, when a Korean Christian man saved his life and shared the Gospel with him. After this, Sooda and his wife dedicated their lives to raising Korean orphans. Due to Korea’s relations with Japan at the time, it is quite remarkable that a Japanese person wanted to serve even the lowliest of Koreans. I think this is great evidence of his changed heart. 

The last person I have to share with you is Horace Grant Underwood, who is oftentimes called the pioneer of missions in Korea. He helped found the first Presbyterian church in Korea, as well as establish Christian schools. Most importantly, he was able to assist in translating the Old and New Testaments into Hangul, the language of the Korean people. He passed away in 1916, but his family stayed in Korea until 2004! 

As I visited the gravesite museum for these missionaries, one thing stood out to me: none of these missionaries became very famous.

There aren’t any famous biographies written about them, and even the museum in their honor didn’t contain much information to tell.

Many of them died when they were only in their thirties.

Many of them lost spouses and children.

They all gave up the comforts of the Western world to come to a place where they were unsure of their safety.

The power of the Gospel drives us to do amazing things for the fame of Jesus.

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