Hate This Election? Love one another.

I have a friend who I am convinced is the smartest guy around. This past summer, he turned off the TV news. He has no Facebook, Twitter, or other social media accounts. But he does have a joyful disposition and peace in his soul—even in the midst of this excruciating election cycle. This election isn’t pretty. There is no viable candidate with integrity. None worthy of even a tepid endorsement. Christians across the country are perplexed, distressed, outraged, and disgusted. Our choice appears to be between Constantine and Diocletian.

love-one-another-simpleThe truth is, we might be more than a little distracted. Perhaps we need a fresh look at first things. We must first love God with heart, soul, mind, and strength. Second, we must love others as we love ourselves. This election is challenging our love for others in general, and our love for one another in particular. And that’s a shame.

The mark of the Christian is love for one another. “By this shall all men know that you are my disciples, that you love one another,” (John 13:35). Suffice it to say, for American Christians, love has not been the most noticeable Facebook trend. Nevertheless, we carry on. There are great victories being won around the world as the gospel goes forward, and Christians continue to love one another fervently from the heart.

I thought this might be a good time for a few examples of Christian love:

In South Sudan, Christians are living among tribes that have no written language. These Christians are helping the Toposa people learn the good news of Christ and the gospel through songs. The Toposa people are an oral culture—no books, no sermon notes, no writing tablets. But they love to sing and dance. So Christians are helping them continue their songs and dances, while introducing the good news of God’s redemption through music. Check it out here: https://www.imb.org/singing-the-gospel-how-oral-learners-encounter-truth/

Another example of Christian love comes from across the Atlantic. London, England, is a world unto itself. The city has at least 8.6 million inhabitants (that’s the official census figure, experts think the real number is much higher). Among the millions of people, there are at minimum 300 different languages spoken. Into this ethnic and cultural mix, Christians are intentionally moving in and living among the many unbelievers. London has become a magnet for ordinary Christians (not full-time missionaries) to work in their professional capacity by day, while staying focused on loving others with the good news of God’s love in the evenings and on weekends. See the full story: https://www.imb.org/london-making-disciples-in-the-capital-of-the-world/

idop-20-yearsFinally, there may be something more important than the election happening this November! Sunday, November 6th (and Sunday the 13th), the International Day of Prayer (IDOP) will celebrate its twentieth anniversary. Originally begun in 1996 by the Religious Liberty Commission of the World Evangelical Association, the International Day of Prayer is now a global movement of millions of Christians joining together in prayer for those suffering persecution. Open Doors USA, The Voice of the Martyrs, and the World Evangelical Alliance all make resources available so your church can participate in this important event to serve fellow Christians through prayer. Fulfill John 13:35 by joining with other Christians to pray for suffering saints.

Stop the Intolerants

[…the conclusion to Tuesday’s post]


Carson Intolerance new tolerance persecutionIn the same Spirit which animated Paul’s protest at Philippi, Barronelle Stutzman is standing against injustice—and paying a price for it. Stutzman’s polite refusal to make a floral arrangement for a homosexual couple was rooted in her firm belief that she would not be loving her neighbors by participating in their same sex marriage. Stutzman did not refuse to do business with the homosexual couple. She sold them flowers from her shop. She had a very friendly, on-going relationship with the couple. She even offered to sell them flowers for their wedding, but she did not want to make the floral arrangements.

For this, Stutzman has been called horrible names and branded as a homophobe and a bigot. In telling her story, Professor Richard Epstein  (Professor of Law at NYU, senior lecturer University of Chicago, and senior fellow at the Hoover Institute) turns the table on the enforcers. Epstein demonstrates clearly that the enforcers are more intolerant than the Christian in this same-sex scenario. Here’s how he says it,

Let’s define our terms. “The English noun bigot,” Wikipedia tells us, “is a term of abuse aimed at a prejudiced or closed-minded person, especially one who is intolerant or hostile towards different social groups (especially, and originally, other religious groups), and especially one whose own beliefs are perceived as unreasonable or excessively narrow-minded, superstitious, or hypocritical. The abstract noun is bigotry.” Phobia, meanwhile, is defined as a “persistent, abnormal, and irrational fear of a specific situation that compels one to avoid it, despite the awareness and reassurance that it is not dangerous.” The issue is whether these terms are more applicable to the people of faith attacked by the commissioners, or to the aggressive commissioners themselves.

For Epstein, Stutzman isn’t the bigot. He prosecutes his case by demonstrating how this issue is a government overreach. The market might clearly correct some of these issues if given enough time. Instead, Epstein argues, the government strikes preemptively—the omnipotent state putting its decisive thumb on the scales of justice. Here, Epstein is brilliant. He is right to identify that the real issue is the power of the state squashing the freedom of its people to believe. Stutzman loses her freedom. She is not the bigoted oppressor. Epstein concludes,

The words “bigotry” and “phobia” clearly do apply to the five commissioners who happily denounce people like Stutzman. They show no tolerance, let alone respect, for people with whom they disagree. They exhibit an irrational fear of those people’s influence. They show deep prejudice and hostility to all people of faith. They indulge in vicious overgeneralizations that make it harder to live in peace in a country with people of fundamentally different views. And they seem to take pleasure in bullying little people who can’t fight back.

He’s right. Christians are quickly becoming the minority group who can’t fight back in America. Ultimately, that’s going to be okay… because Christ has already won the major battle anyway! But sometimes Christians—like Paul, Silas, and Barronelle Stutzman—will need to stand or sit in protest of injustice for the good other Christians. May the Lord bless and strengthen her faith.

Consider praying for Barronelle or helping her in the fight (see also the ADF legal page).


Paul, Prison, and the President


The Apostle Paul was once set free from prison, but he wouldn’t go. Paul did not leave the jail which held him in Philippi until he had first asked for the magistrates to come to him in person (Acts 16:16ff.).  Why the unnecessary stay?

Persecution Prison Theology ChinaStudents of the New Testament recognize the Apostle Paul as a man seriously concerned with justice and righteousness. The righteousness of God was a primary motivation in Paul’s life (Rom 5:20-21). Possibly, righteousness had something to do with Paul’s extended stay in Philippi, too. God’s justice expects justice from men. So Paul conducted a bit of a “sit in” until justice was served.

In the face of suffering injustice from the Roman rulers, Paul made a specific point to force the righting of a legal wrong in Philippi. Luke records the incident (Acts 16:37):

And the jailer reported these words to Paul, saying, “The magistrates have sent to let you go. Therefore come out now and go in peace.”  But Paul said to them, “They have beaten us publicly, uncondemned, men who are Roman citizens, and have thrown us into prison; and do they now throw us out secretly? No! Let them come themselves and take us out.”

The magistrates were alarmed by the report that Paul would not leave (v. 38). They showed up in person to apologize to Paul and Silas. They then asked Paul and Silas politely to leave the city—which, of course, they did with no further incident.

Christians today may justifiably follow the pattern of Paul and call our governing authorities to account for injustice. Christians will sometimes sense an obligation to hold non-believers to the standard of justice which they themselves have set. In Philippi, a Roman city, it was illegal to beat and imprison a Roman citizen without a trial. Paul and Silas called the magistrates to own their wrong actions.

The gospel was new in Philippi, and Paul was its most celebrated advocate. If he were treated as a criminal, then, perhaps, other Christians would be viewed with suspicion. Paul was likely taking his stand (or keeping his seat in prison) for the sake of the gospel, the church, and the corporate witness of these early Christians. Because of Paul’s courage and conviction, future generations of believers would have a greater likelihood of being protected by justice.

Christians more and more are having occasion to point out injustice. We will benefit from thinking thoroughly about when and how to protest wrongs committed against us. Once the apology or correction is made, we must not gloat or glory. Instead, we (like Paul and Silas) should go about the gospel’s business:

“So they went out of the prison and visited Lydia. And when they had seen the brothers, they encouraged them and departed” (Acts 16:40).


The Obama Administration has sustained a consistent assault on the historic concept ofObama Obamacare Abortion religious liberty. Four years ago, I pointed out how the first amendment was morphing into something less like the constitution and more like the Communists ruling China. More recently, Ed Whelan has listed several examples of the current administration’s active attempts to rewrite the First Amendment and restrict religious activity in the U.S.

  • In the international arena, the administration has reduced religious liberty to a shriveled concept of individual religious worship and has instead aggressively promoted its LGBT initiative at the expense of religious liberty. See, e.g., Thomas F. Farr, “Religious Freedom Under the Gun,” Weekly Standard, July 16, 2012.
  • In Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church v. EEOC (2012), the Department of Justice contested the very existence of a “ministerial exception” to federal anti-discrimination laws, despite the fact that that exception had been uniformly recognized by the federal courts of appeals. According to the Obama Department of Justice, religious organizations, in selecting their faith leaders, are limited to the same freedom-of-association right that labor unions and social clubs have in choosing their leaders. At oral argument, even Justice Kagan called DOJ’s position “amazing,” and in its unanimous ruling the Court emphatically rejected DOJ’s “remarkable view that the Religion Clauses have nothing to say about a religious organization’s freedom to select its own ministers.”
  • Despite the fact that its own independent review board ranked the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops far above other applicants for a grant to assist victims of human trafficking, HHS political appointees denied the grant because USCCB won’t refer trafficking victims for contraceptives and abortion. See Jerry Markon, “Health, abortion issues split Obama administration and Catholic groups,”Washington Post, Oct. 31, 2011.
  • Against the backdrop of an escalating clash between gay rights and religious liberty, the Obama administration irresponsibly abandoned its duty to defend the federal Defense of Marriage Act. When President Obama finally cast aside his professed opposition to redefining marriage, he opened the way for an intensification of the vitriolic attacks on traditional religious believers (and others) who continue to hold the position that he had so recently claimed to embrace.
    (Ed Whelan, testimony before congress).

Whelan’s list offers a clear testimony to the increasing likelihood that Christians will run afoul of those enforcing the new tolerance.  As with Paul and Silas, Christians today may sense the need to speak up, to take a stand, or take a seat in prison, waiting for justice to arrive. Law professor Richard Epstein has recently written about one such Christian—Barronelle Stutzman.

(to be continued…)

Why Sit in Prison?

The Apostle Paul was once set free from prison, but he wouldn’t go. Paul did not leave from the jail which held him in Philippi until he had first asked for the magistrates to come to him in person (Acts 16:16ff.).  Why the unnecessary stay?

jail-noStudents of the New Testament recognize the Apostle Paul as a man seriously concerned with justice and righteousness. Ultimately, the righteousness of God was Paul’s motivation for life (Rom 5:20-21). Throughout the New Testament, God’s justice expects justice from men, too. So Paul conducted a bit of a “sit in” until justice was served.

In addition to suffering persecution for the cause of Christ, Paul and Silas also suffered injustice from the Roman rulers. Paul undoubtedly desired for the magistrates in Philippi to become Christians. His faithful testimony before authorities in the book of Acts proves his desire to see pagan rulers converted. More proof of Paul’s desire is found in his admonition to the Corinthians (1 Cor 9:22): I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some.

Nevertheless, Paul made a specific point to force the righting of a wrong in Philippi. Luke records the incident (Acts 16:37):

And the jailer reported these words to Paul, saying, “The magistrates have sent to let you go. Therefore come out now and go in peace.”  But Paul said to them, “They have beaten us publicly, uncondemned, men who are Roman citizens, and have thrown us into prison; and do they now throw us out secretly? No! Let them come themselves and take us out.”

The magistrates were alarmed by the report that Paul would not leave (v. 38). They showed up in person to apologize to Paul and Silas. They then asked Paul and Silas politely to leave the city—which, of course, they did, with no further incident.

Christians today may justifiably follow the pattern of Paul and call our governing authorities to account for injustice. As Christians, we sometimes will sense an obligation to hold non-believers to the standard of justice which they themselves have set. In Philippi, a Roman city, it was illegal to beat and imprison a Roman citizen without a trial. Paul and Silas called the magistrates to own their wrong actions.

The gospel was new in Philippi, and Paul was its most celebrated advocate. If he were treated as a criminal, then, perhaps, the other Christians would be viewed with suspicion. Paul was likely taking his stand (or keeping his seat in prison) for the sake of the gospel, the church, and the corporate witness of all Christians. Because of Paul’s courage and conviction, future generations of believers would have a greater likelihood of being protected by justice.

In the context of 21st century America, Christians will increasingly have occasion to point out injustice. We must think through now how and when it is right to protest wrongs committed against us. Once the apology or correction is made, we must not gloat or glory. Instead, we (like Paul and Silas) should then go about the gospel’s business:

“So they went out of the prison and visited Lydia. And when they had seen the brothers, they encouraged them and departed” (Acts 16:40).

Are Christians Persecuted in America?

Kudos to K.A. Ellis, a Ph.D. candidate at the Oxford Centre for Mission Studies. Her recent article in Christianity Today demonstrates a thoughtful and insightful response to the oft-repeated question of whether Christians in the U.S. are “really” suffering persecution.

persecution-american-flagEllis points out that Christians around the world—including those in hotspots like Syria and the Middle East—believe that Christians are being persecuted in the United States. The sub-title of her article is, “If our overseas brothers and sisters say we are, then we probably are.” The sub-title itself offers a compelling argument. Christians in the Middle East operate on the assumption that all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted (see 2 Tim. 3:12). The response of these overseas Christians demonstrates the New Testament reality that the body of Christ identifies with the suffering of other Christians (Heb. 13:1-3). On this point, Ellis concludes,

“When persecuted Christian leaders overseas warn about how seriously US Christians are marginalized, it’s time to listen.”

Ellis further points out the undeniable reality that persecution looks radically different in Nigeria, Vietnam, and China. Certainly, the degree of suffering in the US is less intense when compared to these Christians in other areas. But that fact alone is no proof of the absence of persecution in the US.

Christ taught his followers from the beginning that persecution would include mere insults:

“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, forutheirs is the kingdom of heaven.

“Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account” (Matthew 5:10-11, ESV).

Finally, Ellis argues soberly about how quickly societies can flip from tolerant to intolerant. It would be naïve to think that persecution can’t happen “in America.” Of course it can. It has. Baptists and others were persecuted in the early days of American history.  And Christians today are in the crosshairs of many cultural leaders.

Further, as I point out in my upcoming book, persecution does happen now in America, but it simply does not get reported as such (for predictable reasons). Churches are burned. Christians are shot and killed. House churches are targeted. And Christians are losing jobs… all in America. Yes, Christians in America are really being persecuted.

So, Christians ought to hear the sober conclusion Ellis reached:

“This is not a cause for despair. We may never experience what the global church faces, but it teaches us that the culture cannot despise us more than we can love its people… Our true goal is perseverance and faithfulness in showing forth the kingdom of God.”

So What, if We Face Persecution?

I posted an article a couple of days ago to remind us of the trend in the U.S. toward losing our religious liberty. Today, I want to speak a little more as to why this conversation matters.


Declaration of Independence

From National Archives

I spoke once with a Christian lawyer friend who was arguing with me about the increasing power of the LGBT movement. As a political movement, this group represents an anti-Christian view of sexual morality. The increase of LGBT political power has produced a decrease of religious liberty (floristsphotographers, and bakers have all lost businesses because of conscientious objections to same sex marriages).

My lawyer friend was critical of those florists, photographers, and bakers. He made two basic points against my defense of them. First, he said we have the First Amendment of our Constitution to safeguard their liberties. They can fight for their rights in court. Such a fight is a healthy part of living in a pluralist culture under the rule of law. Second, he said, maybe Christians need to suffer a little persecution. If the Lord brings persecution to us, so be it. Maybe it will do us some good.

On the first point, the first amendment is hanging on by a thread. The historic right of dissent is eroding more quickly than Malibu Beach. This erosion of freedom prompted Hobby Lobby CEO David Green to speak out. Recently, David Green made a public appeal for Americans to vote for Donald Trump. Green was not a supporter of Trump throughout the early part of this election cycle. His reason for “politicking” for the populist Trump was tied explicitly to preserving the first amendment to the constitution.

David Green’s editorial in USA Today explains the dilemma of conscience he suffered which led him into a lengthy court battle. Because of his Christian faith, Green has remained ardently pro-life. The federal government told him that he had to provide insurance which covered abortifacients (drugs which cause an abortion) or pay a fine of $1.3 million per day! Adding to the pressure was the fact that Hobby Lobby employs 30,000 people—tens of thousands of families would be affected by whether or not David Green violated his conscience on the matter of abortion.

For Green religious liberty isn’t a nicety. It’s a dividing line between freedom and oppression. Are Christians—and other people of faith—really free to believe fundamental truths about the origin of humanity or not? Sadly, as the Hobby Lobby case points out, Circuit courts are split on the question of religious liberty for individuals and corporations in the public marketplace. The Supreme Court is split, too. The Hobby Lobby Case was decided on a 5-4 vote. And now the death of Justice Antonin Scalia has recast religious liberty votes along the lines of 4-4.

In my opinion, my lawyer friend was too confident about the future of individual freedom. The next president will decide (by his or her Supreme Court nominee) whether the first amendment will stand. I am not overly optimistic that we will remain free to act on our sincerest beliefs about life, God, and marriage. So, my lawyer friend’s first argument is tenuous at best.

Second, this friend seemed almost nonchalant in offering his opinion on persecution. If we Christians face persecution for our beliefs, so be it. We may even deserve it. It will be good for us.

Persecution can be good for the church (in the sense of purifying her), but there is no proof that persecution actually grows the church. Missiologist Justin Long has studied the effects of persecution on the church. His conclusion?

“Church growth is “not strongly” correlated with either governmental or societal persecution. However, Christianity “tends loosely” to change more rapidly (grow or shrink) when governmental restriction is high, and stays relatively stable when such pressure is low.” (CT article)

Consistent with this conclusion, the New Testament testifies both of growing and shrinking churches under the pressure of persecution. The church in Jerusalem grew rapidly (Acts 5:14) after the persecution of Peter, John, and the early apostles. However, after the persecution (and martyrdom) of Stephen, the church in Jerusalem was devastated, with church members being scattered throughout Judea and Samaria (Acts 8:1).

More to the point, though, there is something wrong with a Christian attitude of indifference toward persecution. Persecution is not okay. We don’t “deserve” it. No one deserves to be locked away in poor living conditions for 20 years—missing the growth of children and grandchildren—simply because he believes that Jesus Christ is Lord. It’s not okay to be indifferent to this kind of suffering (which happened to Allen Yuan in China).

It’s not okay for Christians to be rounded up and stretched out in front of a steamroller and crushed to death (as happened in North Korea). I’m sure those who make such an argument would quickly point out that losing a cake decorating account (or even a business) is hardly comparable to being crushed to death by a steamroller. Fair enough. But the distinction is only one of degree of persecution. Once religious liberty is lost, the degree of acceptable punishment against Christians will likely increase. It won’t immediately mean that Christians will be steamrolled in America, but who knows what punishments will ultimately be allowed?

It’s no small thing to suffer the loss of a job, a business, or the opportunity to do business. Essential aspects of living—food, clothing, shelter—depend on vocations like photography and baking. Our Christian integrity is defective if we can glibly or nonchalantly subject brothers and sisters in Christ to suffering.

Sure, Christ may bring intensified persecution to Christians in America. Indeed, it may already be happening! It could get even worse. But let’s at least put up a good fight for freedom.

Whatever we surrender today becomes normal tomorrow. If we quietly allow the first amendment to be flushed from American history, thus ushering in a greater degree of persecution against Christians, then we will be guilty (at least partially) of causing our own children and grandchildren to suffer. Future generations will have less access to so many great truths which we have taken for granted.

We may lose, but God give us the strength at least to fight so there is a record of our faithful resistance to tyranny.

America Looking More Like China on Religious Liberty – Gregory C. Cochran

I am re-posting this blog from four years ago because time is proving just how true it was. The trajectory now appears set in stone. Of the three top candidates for president, two (Clinton, Johnson) enthusiastically support the diminishing of First Amendment rights including religious liberty. The third (Trump) may not be reliable.

I re-post the article below to keep this issue fresh in our minds. I will post an update to this article in the next few days. So… from four years ago…

There are two major stories whose trajectories are coalescing toward a permanent loss of religious liberty in the United States. The first story is the on-going saga known affectionately as Obamaca…

Source: America Looking More Like China on Religious Liberty – Gregory C. Cochran

The Look of Love in Pakistan

This past May, a young Christian woman was under assault from her Muslim neighbors in Pakistan. According to Open Doors, Sonia Gill, 23, was accused of insulting the prophet Muhammad by using an old banner bearing the prophet’s name as a covering for her floor. As it turns out, the banners she used were old political banners, nothing related to Islam.


Sonia Gill Pakistan Open Doors

Still, a mob gathered outside of Gill’s home. The local mosque leader filed official charges against Gill, accusing her of blasphemy under Pakistan’s anti-blasphemy law (295-c). Faced with serious accusations (which could lead to the death sentence), Gill was advised by Muslims and fellow Christians to flee. But she did not.

She would not leave even though the anger of the mob was raging hot against her and her household. In one sense, Gill’s story is one of courage. In the face of threats to her freedom and safety, she stood her ground.

In another sense, however, her story is much more profound. It is a story of love. When asked about her decision to stand firm rather than to flee, Gill replied,

“If I flee, what would happen to my Christian neighbors and their houses?”

In her reply is the Spirit of Christ. As our Lord said, “A greater love has no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends” (Jn 15:13). Our good shepherd not only laid down his life for his sheep, but he also gave his spirit to his followers and instructed us (by faith) to love others as Christ loved us (Jn 13:34-35).

Sonia Gill willingly made herself a target in order to protect her Christian neighbors. Her actions exceed courage and bear the sure mark of Christian love. Her love was apparently rewarded, too. According to the story, a local Muslim leader has begun taking actions on behalf of vulnerable Christians.

Led by Chief Minister, Shahbaz Sharif, local authorities are considering establishing a minorities’ protection cell to offer security for Christians like Sonia Gill. Join in praising the Lord for protecting Gill and her neighbors in this village in Pakistan. Give thanks for Sonia and pray for her continued faith. Pray for these local leaders like Shahbaz Sharif, that they might uphold truth and justice–especially for vulnerable Christians.

Read the full story here.

For more about Christian Persecution in Pakistan, see here.

Why hate family?

According to Jesus, discipleship begins with complete allegiance to Him as Lord. Even the bond of familial love must yield to the eternal relationship of divine love accomplished for us in Christ!

Shockingly, Jesus said, If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and

persecution love hate uganda

Creative commons

wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.”

There’s no record of Jesus possessing any particular animus against fathers, mothers, sisters, or brothers. On the contrary, his statement here is not against families as much as it is for disciples. Why would Jesus issue such an ultimatum to his would-be disciples? Because he loves them!  His gospel really is the only means of escaping a perishing world under God’s sentence of death. If one wishes to escape sin and death, he or she must flee to Jesus Christ alone. It’s all or nothing. Life or death.

And Jesus is life.

This past May, Kuluseni Iguru Tenywa found life. He was so glad to be rid of his demons! For years, Tenywa had been tormented by demons. He says he was oppressed by them until he received Christ at a local gathering of Christians. While all of heaven surely rejoiced at this one sinner becoming a follower of Christ, those living in his village in Uganda were enraged against him. Before his conversion, 53 year-old Kuluseni Tenywa had served as the Imam of his Muslim village.

After his conversion, everyone in the village turned against him—everyone, including his wife and his four children. According to Morning Star News, his wife berated him, calling him an infidel and refusing to offer him food. By late June, a mob—led by Tenywa’s brother-in-law—had come for him. They destroyed portions of his farm and his store and intended to take decisive action against him. Desperate, Tenywa felt he had to flee for his life. He ran from his village, from his home, from his family on June 27. He has not seen them since.

Kuluseni Iguru Tenywa has thus far proved himself a faithful disciple of Christ. His life reflects the sober reality Jesus himself unfolded for his followers: “And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household” (Matt 10:36). Sadly, the world has turned against this brother, but if God be for Him, who can stand against him!

Would you please take a moment to pray for this brother in Christ? His wife and children need our prayers, too. You can read more of his story here.

Don’t Buy the ISIS Lie

Regardless (politically) of whether one supported or denounced the Bush Administration’s actions in Iraq, the consequent actions and inaction have made the situation in Iraq positively intolerable. Since the summer of 2014, Christianity has been systematically destroyed in Iraq:

Christian persecution Mosul Iraq“Virtually the entire Christian population, and every trace of its unique 2,000-year-old civilization, has been eradicated from the ISIS-controlled Nineveh Province, the historic homeland of Iraqi Christianity. The vast majority of Nineveh’s Christians–like the vast majority of Yazidis–has been completely dispossessed and driven from their homes into Kurdistan or across the borders.”

Being driven from your homeland is bad enough. Unfortunately, that injustice is miniscule by comparison with the dizzying array of cruelty unleashed on Christians by the Muslim terror group known as ISIS.[1] According to witnesses who have survived and escaped these ungodly horrors, ISIS terrorists have been raping women and girls, while killing their husbands, fathers, and brothers. Girls as young as 9 have reportedly been raped.

Nina Shea recently published an expose of these atrocities against Christians and Yazidis in Iraq. In this report, she quotes an interview with one Christian woman who escaped:

“That night I was married to eight different men and divorced eight times. Each man raped me three or four times. When all this was over, we were taken back to the room where all the girls were being held. They made us walk naked through the big room where all the men were sitting. We were barely able to walk. This scenario was repeated every week–it was like a nightmare.”


Shea documents these unimaginable crimes NOT for the sake of aggrandizing bad behavior. Shea isn’t trying to shock her readers to gain more hits for her article. Her chronicling this evil is to circumvent a further injustice. Some are encouraging us to look away from the genocide of Christians in the Middle East.

As Shea notes, “In a June 15 report concerning ISIS’s genocide in Iraq’s Nineveh Province, a small but highly influential international group, the Independent Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic,insists that ISIS does not intend to destroy the Christian community, which would mean that, under the genocide convention, the terror group has not waged genocide on that minority.”

Shea points out that news agencies and governments may take comfort in the claim that ISIS isn’t really committing genocide because they allow Christians to remain in the land, as long as they pay the jizya tax. But this is geopolitical fool’s gold. Beyond the fact that paying such a tax is a carte blanche form of extortion, this claim to allow Christians to remain is simply not true.

From the article,

What ISIS refers to as “jizya” is extortion and ransom from a few disabled or elderly individuals, and others who did not escape in time. Those who did not escape have been killed or forced to become jihadi “brides,” human shields, slaves, hostages, or Muslims against their will. They are barred from practicing their Christian faith.

And more to the point,

“The State Department’s former counterterrorism expert Ambassador Alberto Fernandez describes the Raqqa jizya document as essentially a pathetic “Salafi Caliphate publicity stunt”:

‘[T]here are no images whatsoever of what could be described as normal Christian life in ISIS-controlled territory–no functioning churches, no monasteries or working priests, and no Christian families or Christian schools–all of which had existed throughout Islamic history.’”

Shea’s article has much more detail and much more to say concerning the danger of buying into ISIS propaganda. Christians have been targeted violently and need for us to be sober-minded, praying, and doing what we can to halt their destruction.

[1] The terror group prefers to be called IS, referring to their claim of having established an Islamic State. The official name used by the U.S. government is ISIL. Many Arabs and some governments (like France) believe Daesh is the best term to use in referring to the group. Daesh is an intentionally pejorative term.

What’s a Christian Response to the New Marriage Culture?

After the Obergfell decision this past year, Christians have tried to cope with a new definition of marriage. What does this new definition mean for church Marriage Retreats? for childcare? or for conversations in youth groups about sexual intercourse?

IMG_3731So many questions have risen since June 26, 2015, when the Supreme Court verdict was released. If two men can be legally married, then why not two men and a woman (bi-sexual marriage)? Why is the number two sacred in marriage? Why not three women? Why not one man and four women who consent? The questions erupt more quickly than do convincing replies.

While the culture rakes through the labyrinth of questions, Christians have an unparalleled opportunity to preach the truth to a world increasingly used and discarded by the sexual revolution. Whatever the law does, the gospel keeps converting sinners by the grace and power of God.

That is essentially the point of a chapter Chris Morgan and I wrote in a new book titled, Ministry in the New Marriage Culture (B & H 2015). The book contains chapters on childcare, youth groups, preaching, counseling, and many other topics. Our chapter pleads for Christians to stay focused on the main thing: Christ and His gospel. I’ll leave you with a quote from the chapter and a link to The Gospel Coalition’s post from our chapter in the book:

The more we’re marked by unity, holiness, and love, the more our lives can ably paint the picture of how life ought to be, and the more our countercultural kingdom community can effect change in one another and in the broader society as salt and light (Matt. 5:3–16).

These gospel realities ground our confidence in all situ­ations. And these realities ground our confidence in a secular age because Christ has defeated the biggest challenge—sin and death (1 Cor. 15). Everything else pales in comparison.

Read the Gospel Coalition post here.

How Has Christianity Grown So Quickly in South Korea?

Blog  Bishop Andrew Taegon Korea

Photo by Swiss James
(Creative Commons)

The Republic of Korea is now a thriving economic power, one of the “Asian Tigers” of production and wealth generation—a leader in automobile manufacturing (Hyundai, Kia), telecommunications devices (LG), and consumer electronics (Samsung).  South Korea is now a global force, maintaining the 12 largest economy on earth.

Approximately 1/3 of the adults in South Korea are Christians. In fact, the largest Christian congregation in the world exists in Korea—the Yoido Full Gospel Church on Yoi Island in Seoul. In 2007, the population of the Yoido church exceeded 830,000. Yes! the congregation of this one church is equal roughly to the population of San Francisco. Korea and Christianity appear to be getting along quite well.

It was not always the case that Korea and Christianity could peacefully coexist. In the 18th and (especially) the 19th centuries, Koreans were terribly intolerant of Christians. By the end of 1866, the Christian population of Korea totaled about 20,000. That year, Christians were martyred by the thousands; estimates put the total number of Christians killed between 8-10,000.

Today, Christians in Korea remember those who paved the way of faith with their own blood.  In Jeoldusan, on the spot where hundreds of martyrs were killed, there is now a Museum-Shrine to Korean martyrs. Detailed records in the museum tell the story of how Confucian leaders killed Christians so their “errors” would not catch on and lead Koreans “astray.” Yet Christianity did catch on in Korea—eventually.

In 1962, Christians made up only 5% of the population of South Korea. Now, as I said above, over 30% of the population is Christian. What a difference 50 years can make! How have Christians made such a difference in Korea over the past 50 years? The secret may well be in the faith their Christian forefathers showed over the last century, suffering intense persecution but maintaining a witness to the truth through it all.

Consider the faithful witness of Saint Andrew Kim Taegon. By the age of 25, he had become Korea’s first Catholic bishop. And at the age of 25, he was martyred for his faith in Christ. In the face of his imminent execution, he proclaimed,

“This is my last hour of life, listen to me attentively: if I have held communication with foreigners, it has been for my religion and for my God. It is for Him that I die. My immortal life is on the point of beginning. Become Christians if you wish to be happy after death, because God has eternal chastisements in store for those who have refused to know Him.”

In the face of death, Christians maintained the hope of life. Over time, the Christian answer to death proved much more powerful than either Confucianism or the ancestor worship of  Korea’s tribalism. The real world problem of death demands an uncompromising solution. Christ alone satisfies death’s demand.  The Korean martyrs left decades of powerful testimonies affirming the Resurrection.

Though we Christians may lose the temporal battle for life to the power of our enemies, we cannot finally lose at all. Where is death’s victory? Has it not been swallowed by the resurrected life of our Lord Jesus Christ? Death no longer stings the believer.

So whatever battles appear to be lost, let us remember as Andrew Kim Taegon did to press on by faith in our Jesus who has been raised from the dead. Who knows what the Lord may do in 50 years or in 150 years? We know already what he has done to death in the death of Christ. Our sure hope is Christ, who began a good work in us and will keep it until His final, victorious return. Thanks be to God for our indescribable gift.

History: Why Christians Can’t Rely on News Editors

Are reporters biased? Sure. But reporter bias is not the most troubling problem when trying to get “the News.” Reporters are merely “field hands” or “harvesters.”  They aren’t the farmers who actually own the fields. The owners are the editors.  Just as farmers decide what crops will be planted on their lands, so, too, editors decide which reports will end up in their papers (or on their web pages, podcasts, and TV shows).  Editors are the ones really in control.

Auschwitz 70th Anniversary

Auschwitz (Creative Commons)

Editors are in charge of deciding what is and what is not news. A chilling—sad and sobering—reminder of the power of a news editor was on display this week as the world marked the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Jewish prisoners from Auschwitz.

About 300 Auschwitz survivors returned to the dreaded site of their incarceration to mark Tuesday’s official 70th anniversary of the death-camp’s liberation.  In conjunction with this emotional anniversary, the Daily Telegraph published a story about how their paper got the scoop on the rest of the world concerning the Nazi program of mass killing.

An exiled Polish Jew–Szmul Zygielbojm –worked feverishly to find out information about what was happening to Jews in Poland. His main motivation was to save his own family—a wife and son who remained captive to the Nazis in Poland. With more intrigue and drama than a Tom Clancy novel, Szmul Zygielbojm was finally able not only to get information about gas chambers and daily death tolls to the Daily Telegraph, but, even more impressively, he was able to get eyewitness accounts of mass killings smuggled out of Poland on microfilm hidden inside of a key.

At great personal risk, he carried out his plan and disclosed the entire, unimaginable affair to a newspaper reporter for the Daily Telegraph. Triumphantly, he waited for the world to revolt at the horrific news of the Nazi atrocities.

But the outcry of injustice never came. No one noticed the story when it was first published on June 25, 1942.  By the following April, Szmul Zygielbojm was both incredulous and in despair over what must have seemed like a sub-human lack of concern for suffering Jews (including his own family). By May of 1943, his family was dead. And in Szmul’s mind, his life was over, too. He wrote the following note before he killed himself:

“The responsibility for the crime of the murder of the whole Jewish nationality in Poland rests first of all on those who are carrying it out.

But indirectly it falls also upon the whole of humanity, on the peoples of the Allied nations and on their governments, who up to this day have not taken any real steps to halt this crime.

By looking on passively upon this murder of defenceless millions of tortured children, women and men they have become partners to the responsibility”[1]

No one can blame Szmul Zygielbojm for his cynicism and for pointing the finger of blame at all who were living happily while Jews were being slaughtered by the thousands. One of the main culprits, however, may well have been the editors at the Daily Telegraph. The truth of the matter is that Szmul had given them credible evidence of the worst mass murder in history, and they buried it in a small article on page 5. What if the mass killing of 1,000 Jews per day had been given front page, headline status in June of 1942? Might it not have awakened Europe sooner to the gravity of the Nazi problem?

I have documented below a fine article by Roy Greenslade concerning the Szmul Zygielbojm affair if you would like to read more about that sad set of circumstances coming out of WWII. For my purposes here, I ask this simple question: What are the editors of “the News” not telling us today? What page 5 stories ought to be on the front page?

The Cleansing of Iraq’s Christians Entering Its End Game 

War on Christians from Africa to Asia to the Middle East, Christians Are the World’s Most Persecuted Minority

15,000 Christians Lose Their Homes, One Thousand Dead in Attack by Muslim Terrorists

Christians are not targeted by a single nation for extinction, the way the Jews were targeted by the Nazis. But Christians are targets of violence around the world. I think I understand why American news outlets put the Christian story on “page 5.” But Christians need no longer to depend on daily news editors to know what is really important, right?

                [1] As quoted by Roy Greenslade of The Guardian, whose fine article (Tuesday, January 27, 2015) is available online http://www.theguardian.com/media/greenslade/2015/jan/27/daily-telegraphs-holocaust-article-in-1942-that-went-unheralded .  He tells the complete story very well.

What’s Next for Christians in America?

A fantastic contrast is displayed in Isaiah 46: the difference between carrying around man-made gods or realizing that God Himself carries mankind through history.  God’s people realize that God alone is Lord and that we are dependent wholly upon Him. He cares for us, and He carries us. He bears our burdens. He begins the good work in us, and He brings it to its eternal completion in Christ.

Create idol keep idol Christians in America

Idol in Tahiti (Creative Commons)

Conversely, those who refuse or reject God end up making gods for themselves. Expedient as this idolatry is in the beginning, it becomes quite burdensome over time. It’s one thing to make an idol; it’s quite another to keep it. As reality bears down, the idol becomes harder and harder to keep alive. In the end, one must either admit that we are created and sustained by God, or we must believe against mounting evidence that truth is what we demand it to be —a god of our own making.

The pressure is mounting in America. There was once room for the Bible’s God in civil discourse and common morality. Since the sexual revolution, however, the god of sexual freedom has demanded no boundaries. Even the common sense notion that marriage includes a husband and a wife is an unbearable burden. The God of the Bible seems too demanding now for most Americans. Consider a few recent examples.

A couple of years ago, I noted how the Democratic National Convention separated itself from Christianity preceding their election-year rally in Charlotte.  For some reason, the DNC shunned welcome baskets from a group of Christian churches welcoming them to town (the Charlotte 714 project).  Have Republicans now rejected biblical morality, too?  One must wonder whether the recent non-vote by the U.S. House of Representatives wasn’t a similar signal being broadcast by the Republican party—that Christian views of life and marriage really are now out of bounds in a sexually boundless America.

In his visceral rejection of the Republican-led House of Representatives’ inaction, Russell Moore hurled,

“I am disgusted by this act of moral cowardice. If the House Republicans cannot pass something as basic as restricting the abortion of five-month, pain-capable unborn children, what can they get done?”

Beyond the question of what the Republicans might get done, my question is what does this inaction mean for Christianity in America? It’s painfully obvious that one ought not hurt a helpless baby in the womb. If we can no longer appeal to Congress for moral action on behalf of innocent babies, then for what can we as Christians appeal?

Will we dare speak up for marriage? Family?  Chastity?  Recently, a fire chief in Atlanta was suspended without pay simply for believing that some forms of sexual expression are “perversions” of the heterosexual (and biblical) norm.  Even more ominously, judges in my home state of California have decided—as a code of ethics—that it would be improper for a sitting judge to be affiliated with an organization that discriminates on the basis of sexual orientation. From the Los Angeles Times,

California’s judicial code of ethics bars judges from holding “membership in any organization that practices invidious discrimination on the basis of race, sex, gender, religion, national origin, ethnicity or sexual orientation.”

Presently, this new code of ethics reaches to private organizations like the Boy Scouts—but not yet to churches.  Churches are the only exemption left, but for how long will churches be exempt? Denny Burk offers this sober assessment:

In other words, the Court knows that it has a standard that churches and other religious organizations violate. That is why they grant them an exception. But on what basis would they continue such an exception? If they really view churches as discriminatory without rational basis, there would be no reason for the exception to stand. That would effectively preclude Christians and other people of faith from serving as state judges in California.

So Christians may not be able to be judges in California, big deal! Why does that matter? It matters because such an Free speech lost two stories christianexclusion would mean no Christian interpretation of the law—thus no biblical morality—in California. Despite what folks say, all legislation is ultimately moral legislation. Morality is the only thing laws can legislate. And the direction of California is toward legislating a morality without a Christian component. (See Romans 3:10-18 for a picture of such a “morality”).

Two recent, excellent articles point in this same direction and attempt to wrestle with the consequences of godless morality for Christians in America.  Rod Dreher has an insightful piece recently published in The American Conservative titled “The End of American Civic Christianity.”

In this piece, Dreher contends that the division within the Roman Catholic Church has reached a crisis point. It is no longer clear whether one can be both Christian and American. Here is the article’s conclusion:

He found that the older people around the table — those 50 and older, say …  still seemed to believe that the public order could be saved, despite the direness of the moment. Those younger people — including Catholic scholars — had a more radical view of what could be saved, and what could not. To put it more bluntly than it probably should be, if the question is, “Can you be both a good Christian, and a good American?”, the answer is increasingly looking like no, you cannot.

The unified view, as I recall, was that we are no longer living in normal times for American Christians, and they (we) had better wake up and understand which way the wind is blowing, and adjust.

The wind is obviously blowing against the Biblical view of morality. A similar article was recently posted by Dr. Mark Coppenger in the Canon and Culture series from the ERLC. In this article, Dr. Coppenger argues that “Therapeutic Nihilism” rules the day. Feelings in general (and sexual feelings in particular) rule the day rather than the more open Judeo-Christian philosophy of days gone by. Coppenger argues for an unashamed return to the “discursive” Judeo-Christian philosophy of American history. His case is compelling.

Nevertheless, I fear the first article gets it exactly right. The sexual revolution is more radical than any of us realize, and the appetite of foreign gods is never satisfied. Pagan gods must be fed continually and propped up incessantly. Because they are not real, they must coerce complete adherence. No dissension is allowed—especially if those dissenting voices echo the one, true God of days gone by.

Christian Church China PersecutionWhat does this mean for Christians? It means we ought to accept the reality that we are no longer a “moral majority.” We are the minority sub-culture of American morality.  Thus, we must first get our own houses in order. The first priority of American Christianity ought to be ecclesiology. We must have healthy churches. Our culture desperately needs a viable alternative to offer those over-burdened by propping up the foreign god of the sexual libertines. The family of God has to be a refreshing alternative to the dysfunctional families decimated by the god of this age.

Second, Christians must genuinely live mundane lives as salt and light. Our king is still on His throne. We need not fear the future—even if it means we shall suffer the wrath of those devoted to a false god. Our Christ will never be unseated from His throne. We must lovingly point others to His majesty. We must speak of the true freedom found in Christ. We must always shine the light of our good works and good words into the darkness of a lost people so they may continue to have hope.

Finally, we must realize that neither the gospel nor our Lord Jesus has failed. Christ will build his church, and the gates of Hell will not prevail against it.  One person at a time, Christ will build His church. One brick at a time, the new temple in Christ’s kingdom is still being built through sinners believing in Jesus. One letter at a time, a new history is being written as Christ brings today and tomorrow toward its ultimate goal of a new heaven and a new earth converging around Him.

So what are Christians to do? Obey Psalm 46:10, “Cease striving and know that I am God.” Or, to use the phrase of a famous hymn: Be Still My Soul,

Be still, my soul; thy God doth undertake

To guide the future as He has the past.

Thy hope, thy confidence, let nothing shake;

All now mysterious shall be bright at last.

Be still, my soul; the waves and winds still know

His voice who ruled them while He dwelt below.

In the end, if the Bible is true (and it is), and if Isaiah 46 is right (as it most certainly is), then the false gods of sexual liberation will prove to be too much of a burden to bear. When that happens, Christians and their God—and their God-glorifying communities—will be a remedy of welcomed relief for those who are weary and heavy-laden, for those who wish to find rest for their souls and learn from Jesus the way to abundant life.


Don’t Mess with Marriage (Lesson in Tyranny)

New Hope for Asia Bibi?

Christmas is over. The new year has begun. For me, my wife, and my family, Christmas was a wonderful retreat. For the only time during the year, our family is complete at Christmas. All siblings are nestled in one place for this one week of the year.

Salmaan Taseer Assassinated for helping Asia Bibi in Pakistan

Salmaan Taseer
Assassinated for helping Asia Bibi in Pakistan

What presents did the little ones get? I might remember one or two of them, but for me, the presents aren’t that important. It’s the presence of my children all together—that is the true treasure to me. It’s sad when the older children must go their ways back to college, back to their homes in other states. So, I’m sad, yet satisfied with the great joy of having had time together as a family.

This satisfying joy of having family all together has been denied to Asia Bibi. Asia, our sister in Christ, has not enjoyed the presence of her family—her husband and five children—for more than 5 years now. For more than 1,800 days in a row, she has been in prison in Pakistan. Imagine what it must be like to suffer alone day after day, night after night.

When I take trips for my job—complete with comfortable hotels—I long to be with my wife, to be in the presence of my children. I can’t wait to get back home, especially if I have been away for three, four, or five straight days. Asia Bibi (Aasiya Noreen) has been alone—without her family—for more than one thousand, eight-hundred days.

Is there any hope for her sanity? Is there any hope for her escape or release? Sadly, even if there were, she would not be safe. Just two weeks ago, a man was released in Pakistan after spending a couple of years in jail on a blasphemy charge (like the charge against Asia). He was shot multiple times. An angry mob surrounded his body and would not allow the family to bury him in the local cemetery.

Other Christians in Pakistan have been killed on the mere accusation that they “blasphemed” the prophet Muhammad.  Pakistan is not a safe place for Christians.

Lately, a new angle of hope has emerged for Christians in Pakistan. Oddly enough, lawyers are looking to Sharia Law for help to defend Christians against the death penalty in blasphemy cases. In Sharia law, there is a principle called Tazkiyah al Shuhood.  This principle insists that witnesses must be highly credible if their evidence is used in a crime that is punishable by death. Asia Bibi’s lawyer appealed to this principle in an effort to raise the bar of evidence against her. Because her case was punishable by death, her lawyer argued from the principle of Tazkiyah al Shuhood that the witnesses needed to meet a higher standard of credibility than mere accusation before their testimony could be used against Asia.

Pakistan Persecution Christian

Shahbaz Bhatti
Assassinated for opposing Pakistan’s blasphemy laws.

To this point, his argument has not prevailed. However, there is a glimmer of hope in this strategy because it appeals to Sharia law.  Unfortunately, the majority of Pakistani Muslims support the blasphemy laws and the death penalty for those whom they believe has transgressed it. Thus nothing has changed for Asia Bibi so far. But maybe this new legal strategy will prevail.

Ultimately, her real hope is found solely in Jesus Christ,

24but Jesus, on the other hand, because He continues forever, holds His priesthood permanently. 25Therefore He is able also to save forever those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them (Hebrews 7:24-25, NASB).

The Most Mistreated Minority in the World Is …

I am teaching a college course today on the scope of the persecution problem around the world. Naturally, I found this little post to be a helpful reminder.

Gregory C. Cochran

Crucifixion of St. Peter by Caravaggio. The ea...

Back in November, I wrote a blog post about German Chancellor Angela Merkel, in which it was noted that Merkel was taking a great deal of heat for claiming that Christians are the most persecuted group in the world.  That is not a headline that sells in America, as many folks still love to decry the “moral majority” of America’s past.

Nonetheless, time is proving Merkel right.  Studies have shown that Christians are harassed more than any religion in the Pew Study Religion Persecution Christianworld.  A new collaborative work by Paul Marshall, Lela Gilbert, and Nina Shea of the Hudson Institute covers the worldwide persecution of Christians in great detail.  The Book,  Persecuted: The Global Assault on Christians, is now in print.

The book demonstrates just how bad the problem is and how, particularly, Christians in the Middle East are being targeted for extinction with little concern from Americans in general and…

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How Do You Obey Hebrews 13:3?

Christian persecution Mosul IraqSome years ago, I had a conversation with T. W. Hunt, a well-known prayer warrior. He had come to lead a conference on prayer at our church. At the time, I was a volunteer representative for Voice of the Martyrs. When he realized my concern for the persecuted church, his eyes lit up, and he enthusiastically retorted, “I pray for the persecuted church every day.”

As we spoke further, he revealed his method for remembering to pray for the persecuted church (as we are called by Hebrews 13:3 to remember the persecuted and ill-treated because we, too, are in the body). His method was simple. Each month, he received the VOM Newsletter. Upon receiving it, he would start at the front cover and work his way to the back, praying for each person’s name mentioned in that newsletter. He would make sure that he prayed for every person mentioned in the newsletter every month.

Though I never adopted his method for remembering on a consistent basis, I did realize that we must take extraordinary steps to obey Hebrews 13:3.  It is not a natural command for us to fulfill. We do not naturally identify with the persecuted church; thus we must be commanded to remind ourselves not to forget about our suffering brothers and sisters in Christ. I have set up these reminders in many different ways over the years.

For instance, I once wore a “Pray for Sudan” arm band. I also wore a “Bound with Them” bracelet to keep prisoners on my mind. One of the most effective ways I found was to make myself as familiar with Christians in prison as I was with Greek vocabulary—so I literally made flashcards of Christians in prison and kept them on a little ring which I could carry with me and flip through, praying as I went through the names on the flashcards.

Today, I am keeping things a little simpler still. My prayers are focused on Asia Bibi because her life is, literally, in the Asia Bibi Persecution Pakistan Praybalance. In 3 weeks, a judge will decide if this wife and mother of five will live or die. She is under the sentence of death in Pakistan on account of her faith in Jesus Christ. I have changed all my social profile pics to a prayer reminder until after October 16th so that I do not fail to remember this sister in prison in her time of great need.

I’m sure there are many other ways to remind ourselves to obey Hebrews 13:3. Please feel free to share how you remember to remember the persecuted (and thus obey Hebrews 13:3). Talk about it with your friends and ask them to share. The more we hear ideas from one another, the more likely we are to “stir one another up to love and good works” like remembering those who are ill-treated on account of their faith in Christ.

Remember the prisoners, as though in prison with them, and those who are ill-treated, since you yourselves also are in the body (Hebrews 13:3, NASB).

Why Did the Pope Cry?

Once a bouncer in a night club, Pope Francis might not be known generally as a “crier.”  On a recent trip to Albania, however, he was seen weeping visibly. Why the emotional outburst from such a high-ranking Catholic official? It seems that Pope Francis was overcome by emotion because of the lowliness of an Albanian priest:

Pope speaks against Christian persecution Albania communism

Creative Commons (by Alfredo Borba)

Fr. Ernesto Simoni Troshani, an 84 year old diocesan priest, recalled when the Communist party came to power and began detaining and murdering priests, some he said who died saying “Long live Christ the King”. He also said that his diocesan superiors were killed by firing squad.

Fr. Troshani was himself imprisoned for 18 years during the Communist takeover of Albania. On his cell wall, Troshani etched the phrase, “Jesus is my life.” Troshani was sentenced to forced labor, where he stayed until he became so weak the Communists assumed he would die. He was released and lived the rest of his life as a priest. When this lowly priest knelt before the pope, the pope was overcome by the beauty of his humility, and, thus, he wept.

As I have said before, I am not Roman Catholic. I don’t recognize Pope Francis as my leader on earth. However, I do recognize that he has been a reliable advocate on behalf of persecuted Christians around the world. His comments on persecution make perfectly good (and biblical) sense to me. He says,

When I hear that so many Christians in the world are suffering, am I indifferent, or is it as if a member of my own family is suffering? Am I open to that brother or that sister in my family who’s giving his or her life for Jesus Christ? (Pope Francis)[348]

Some Simple Ways to Pray for Asia This Week

Praise the Lord! A number of folks have changed their profile pics to the “Pray for Asia Bibi” reminder seen here. As I pointed out, that is a great way to remind ourselves and others to pray for Asia Bibi between now and October 15th. Her judge in Pakistan has said that he will delay no more, and the next meeting date is final: It is life or death.

We can help her through our prayers. Remember Paul’s words to the Corinthians. They helped him when he thought he was going to die:

Asia Bibi Persecution Pakistan PrayFor we do not want you to be unaware, brethren, of our affliction which came to us in Asia, that we were burdened excessively, beyond our strength, so that we despaired even of life; indeed, we had the sentence of death within ourselves so that we would not trust in ourselves, but in God who raises the dead; 10 who delivered us from so great a peril of death, and will deliver us, He on whom we have set our hope. And He will yet deliver us, 11 you also joining in helping us through your prayers, so that thanks may be given by many persons on our behalf for the favor bestowed on us through the prayers of many. (2 Corinthians 1:8-11)

Here are a few ways we can be praying for Asia Bibi in her current distress:

  • Pray for her faith not to fail, that God would strengthen her soul to faithful endurance.
  • Pray for her husband to trust Christ and stay fixed on Him clearly, especially in this next month.
  • Pray for her children to see Christ and the Holy Spirit at work through the faith displayed by their parents throughout this ordeal (She has 5 children).
  • Pray for her judge to have the courage to execute justice (rather than executing Asia Bibi).
  • Pray for this judge to do what is right, even though his life will then be in danger, as radicals would likely try to kill him if he allows Asia Bibi to go free.
  • Pray for those who have persecuted Asia and caused her 5 years of imprisonment, that they will be broken by the beauty of her faith and the holiness of her suffering for Christ’s sake. Pray they will be convicted of sin and converted to Christ.
  • Pray for the church in Pakistan to be strengthened through Asia’s faith, even as Paul says that the church was strengthened by seeing how God worked through his suffering.
  • Pray that the gospel would increase in Pakistan in the same way that it increased when Stephen was martyred and Paul was imprisoned.

My wife made the picture above her iPhone wallpaper so that every time she turns on her phone she gets a reminder to pray. Get creative!

I’m sure that you can think of many other ways to be praying during these last few weeks. Please feel free to share how you are praying for Asia. That will likely help all of us to pray with focus and intensity. Please continue to pray and continue to share these prayer requests with others. We have a genuine opportunity to see how the fervent, faithful prayers of the righteous can accomplish much on behalf of Asia Bibi.

Why You Should Change Your Profile Pic for the Next Month

Asia Bibi (aka Aasiya Noreen or Asia Noreen) is married, a mother of 5 children. She has not been at home with her husband or children since the summer of 2009 (what was your family like in 2009? Where were you?)

More than 5 years have passed since her family last lived together because Asia has been in prison since June 19, 2009, for defending Christ against the slanderous charges made by her Muslim coworkers. You can read the whole story here at Prisoner Alert.

Asia Bibi Persecution Pakistan PrayIn the meantime, you should change your profile pic on Facebook, Twitter, etc., to something like what I have pictured to the left for two simple reasons. First, change your profile pic so that you will be reminded to pray for Asia for the next month. This is a very important and strategic plan because in one month (October 15th) a judge has promised to declare his final verdict: Asia has been convicted in Pakistan of insulting the prophet Muhammad, and she has been sentenced to death. In one month, she may die.

Pray every day for one month. Changing your profile picture may remind you to pray for this woman and her family. Pray for the judge to set her free, but realize that he, too, would need more prayers from us, as other high-ranking officials have been murdered in Pakistan for helping Christians (see here). It will take courage for him to issue a favorable verdict for Asia. This situation appears to be in its final days, and our prayers are needed.

Second, changing your profile picture does raise awareness and it does keep an important issue floating around the internet for weeks–and weeks may be all that Asia has left! It’s easy to be cynical about “do-nothing” activism on social media. I have heard comedians mock the simplicity and easiness of thinking a tweet or post is the same as “real” activism—some call it “Slack-tivism.”

I would not worry about being mocked for being so simple. Jesus’s first followers were mocked for being unschooled fishermen. And whatever one wishes to say about “slack-tivism,” there is no doubt that social media keeps certain issues alive for weeks and months–which is why advertisers pay to publish their posts!

This wife and mother of 5 needs us to keep her situation alive for the next month so that, possibly, a judge will end up keeping her alive beyond October 15th.  In other words, this is life or death.

I will post soon a list of ways to pray for Asia Bibi over the next month.  In the meantime, why not change your profile picture (or take some other measures to keep this situation out front for the next month)? It really could mean life or death for Asia Bibi.

While praying remember Proverbs 16:9. We don’t pray in vain because

The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps.

What Happened to the 7 Missing Disciples?

In Acts 2, the Apostle Peter stood in the assembly and proclaimed Jesus Christ as Lord. Though he had organized no great event, nor had he enlisted an army of volunteers to corral the crowds, Peter saw great fruit as three thousand souls were saved and added to the church in a single day.

Discipleship Baptism PersecutionWhile we typically do not see such mass conversions, we do still see and hear stories on top of stories of sinners being saved by God’s grace. I was recently in the presence of a gifted evangelist who had many such stories to tell. Here is his story of the seven missing disciples.

Two weeks ago, my evangelist friend had the privilege of scheduling 16 baptisms in a single day—Quite a day indeed for a church that normally runs only 60 or 70 in attendance. When the day came for the baptismal celebrations, only nine of his disciples came forward. There were seven disciples missing. Why? Where were the seven missing disciples?

Cynically, we might think that they were not really disciples after all; they had, perhaps, made a profession of faith but were not willing to put forth even the effort to seek the baptismal waters as a first step of obedience to Christ’s commands. This was not the case. In fact, my evangelist friend queries his candidates thoroughly in two areas before he will agree to baptize. The first area he investigates is the nature of their profession of faith in Christ. He seeks to make sure they understand that Jesus Christ is a savior from sinners and Lord of life. Thus, obedience is not optional. The second area he examines is just how serious the profession of faith is; so he asks his candidates if they are willing to die for their faith in Christ. He says he would rather have 10 serious Christians in his congregation than a 1,000 of the half-hearted variety. So, why were 7 disciples missing?

They were forbidden by their parents to attend their own baptisms. These were high school students whose parents were not believers. Because these students were around 17 and still living at home, their parents had an authoritative command of their lives and actions. And the parents forbid these young adults from being baptized. There are two surprising conclusions to this drama.

First, the shear fact that 44% of baptismal candidates were forbidden by their parents—in America—from celebrating baptism as followers of Christ is astounding! Christ and Christianity are falling from favor in large swaths of American culture.

The second surprising aspect of this conversion saga is the response of the pastor to this unsettling situation. It really is not that surprising that the pastor told these missing disciples that they must honor their father and their mother—that after all is a biblical command from the Old Testament that is reiterated in the New (Ephesians 6 for instance). What is surprising is how thoroughly he expected their obedience to this command. My evangelist (pastor) friend explained to these would-be disciples that God has given them good parents who are willing to make difficult decisions on the basis of their own convictions. He told these wishing-to-be-baptized professors of faith that they weren’t commanded simply to obey their parents but to honor them. Thus, they must see their parents’ actions in the most honorable light—even if they all disagree as to the consequence of the parents’ decision.

Do you think he gave them good advice, based on Ephesians 6?

Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. Honor your father and mother(which is the first commandment with a promise), so that it may be well with you, and that you may live long on the earth.

How would you handle it if those you have disciple into faith cannot then be baptized because of parental prohibition? What if they will not be baptized out of fear of persecution?

Should Beheaded Christians Be Called Martyrs?

A good and thoughtful friend of mine recently asked whether I thought journalist James Foley should be called a martyr. In general, the question would be whether American journalists who profess to be Christians are martyrs when they are killed in Muslim lands.

Christian persecution definitionI am actually uncomfortable asking and answering such questions while the matter is still so fresh for the families. These families need our prayers more than our debates about martyrdom. But people are asking the question and making declarations about James Foley being a Christian martyr. So, I thought it might be best to re-post a blog concerning the definition of persecution as I understand it from the Bible. A martyr is one who remains a faithful witness through persecution. If there is no persecution (on account of Christ), then there can be no martyrdom. On that account, professing Christians like James Foley (or Dietrich Bonhoeffer) might be heroes or icons of courage, but they are not martyrs.

Read the post below and decide for yourself.

Tryon Edwards, great grandson of Jonathan Edwards, once said,

“Most controversies would soon be ended, if those engaged in them would first accurately define their terms, and then adhere to their definitions.”

Edwards was perhaps too optimistic about the end of controversy, but he was right to note the power of definitions to bring clarity and, perhaps, unity. Definitions are important things. A trip to the local reference section of a library or bookstore proves beyond doubt that we think definitions are important things.

Consider the prevalence of English dictionaries. There are dictionaries for synonyms, dictionaries for war terms, for business terms, legal terms, theological terms, psychological terms. A seemingly endless stream of dictionaries flows from the ocean of words which break upon the pages of our literature and, thus, land upon our minds, enabling and empowering our thoughts. Our thoughts ride and move upon the surf of words.

But words do not always come as docile tides bathing a white sand shore. Words break upon our ears and often crash into our minds challenging our very existence. As the existentialist Sartre declared, “Words are loaded pistols.” And that is often true. Defining words can be a dangerous game because words are the means by which reality takes its shape.  Consider, for example, how the Nazis defined treason and loyalty. And consider the implications for Germany and the world.

In our own culture, consider how important it is to define the word person. It has become a deadly word for babies developing in the womb because they have been excluded by definition from the semantic range of the word person. If a baby is a person, then it has the rights of a person. If not… So, you see, subtle changes in the definition of words can have cataclysmic long term effects for us. Definitions are exceedingly important.

Two particular words Christians must define in our own day are marriage and persecution. The first is necessary because Christian Persecution Realthe word is being redefined.  The Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) has fallen on notoriously difficult times, and marriage is now successfully being redefined to include same sex unions. In fact, as I’ve noted in prior posts, the new definition of marriage demands no boundaries on the basis of avoiding all discrimination. A recent federal case in Utah may now allow group marriages (read about it here).

Because marriage is now redefined, Christians will be tested on whether or not they believe what they have been saying about their own definition.  Do we as Christians believe God’s monogamous design for heterosexual marriage? Will Christians stand on these convictions? What if group marriages, gay marriages, or even bestial marriages become matters of civil rights? Will Christians remain steadfast in their biblical convictions? Will we pay the price in persecution? What if churches will lose their tax exempt status as a result of monogamous marriage commitments? What if pastors are convicted of civil rights crimes—or hate crimes—and sent to jail for refusing to marry a small group of lovers?

Persecution will likely flow from the deluge of court decisions against traditional marriage. Thus, Christians ought to start defining persecution so we understand what and why we are suffering.  Persecution means many things to many different people. I read an article recently which stated that wild birds were being persecuted in northern England.  Whatever the journalist covering bird crime in Great Britain meant by his use of the word persecuted, the Christian must understand it much differently. Both Christians and birds of prey can be hunted and threatened with extinction, but Christians alone are human beings created in the image of God and charged with witnessing to His glory. Birds are not people and, thus, not created in God’s image.  Persecuting birds is not the same as persecuting Christians. But Christians will be persecuted. Thus,persecution is a concept which needs to be properly defined. Here is a good, biblical definition of persecution:

Persecution is a retaliatory action against the revelation of the righteousness of God in Christ which is represented or proclaimed by the followers of Jesus Christ. 

The definition is helpful for Christians so we can test ourselves (as Peter commands) to make sure our suffering happens because of Christ and His righteousness, not because of our own stupidity, arrogance, or offensive behavior. The definition is also helpful so we can experience the full joy of the blessings of Christ (Matthew 5:10-12). Finally, the definition is important because we will likely be facing persecution of a more intense nature than at any time in America’s history.

Here we return to Edwards’s point. Definitions do provide clarity and can lead to unity. Often, however, the clarity itself leads to controversy.  Such controversy by no means argues for de-emphasizing the need for definitions. Rather, the controversy serves further to clarify where to stand, when to stand, and how to stand. And if you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything. If you do stand for something as a Christian, you will face persecution. Define your terms so you will know why you suffer.

And as you suffer, remember the words of your great Shepherd: “Blessed are you.”  Learn from this Shepherd the definition of being blessed—even when you cannot be united on account of the words you have learned to define.

What Is the Media Really Hiding from Us?

Years ago (like back in the ‘80’s), I came across a very important fellow with long hair and knickers. Francis Schaeffer, author of How Should We Then Live (and a host of other great books) proved to be prophetic in many of his warnings to the western church. One of the warnings which demonstrated Schaeffer’s prescient gift was his admonition to beware of the power of mass media.

Persecution Resources Updates newsRush Limbaugh and others have made a healthy lump of dough pointing out media bias in America’s newsrooms. Who any longer doubts the leftward inclinations of most reporters at the New York Times or CNN? What Schaeffer pointed out, however, was not simply that biased reporters beget biased reporting. He noted how biased editors, too, would mean biased narratives. In other words, the problem with media bias is not simply how news gets reported; the problem is also what news gets reported. Our real media curse is more the latter than the former. Here is what I mean.

Media bias—in the sense of catching the slant on how news stories get reported—is easy to spot in an internet world. When the U.S. embassy in Libya gets attacked, there are mainstream reporters covering it, but there are also numerous conservative websites and news sources covering it from a different perspective. One who wishes to get the most accurate story will be wise enough to read both accounts and settle the matter of bias for himself. This form of biased reporting is easily correctible with a little due diligence.

The more serious form of bias occurs when we ask questions about what stories are actually covered in the first place. For instance, consider today’s “Top Headlines” from NBC News (as reported on the NBC Today Show home page).[1] Here are some of the “top” stories:

  • An inside look at Joran van der Sloot’s prison home.
  • A story of how Tom Brokaw got an interview with Gorbachev.
  • How to protect your cloud backup storage (so old photos of you in the nude don’t end up all over the internet as they allegedly have with Jennifer Lawrence and Kate Upton).
  • The U. S. targets an air strike against the terrorist who carried out the Kenya mall attack.

There are even more stories further down the page—such as a celebration of two men finally able to marry one another in Minnesota.

But what stories are NOT mentioned here? Let’s name a few headlines the news editors might have missed:Christian persecution Mosul Iraq

Many more stories could be added to the list. The point is that we can’t assume that “News” is what the news people say it is. All news is filtered news. What is the filter that determines which news gets through? For us, it must be Christ, who is the fullness of Him who fills all in all. All things are from Christ and for Christ—even the news. Perhaps it’s okay—or at least understandable—that mainstream reporters and editors would forsake the suffering of Christians, but Christ has promised that He never will. Because we are His flock, we must not forsake our brothers and sisters either in their time of greatest earthly need.

[1] Accessed September 2, 2014: http://www.today.com/

Is Persecution Just a Myth?

Christian persecution Mosul IraqI must apologize to my readers for not having written a review of The Myth of Persecution by Candida Moss of the University of Notre Dame. I have to admit that I put her book (whether fairly or unfairly) in the category of “negative attention seeker.” What I mean by that phrase is that some people seem to gain attention by shock value and negative response. (Think Ann Coulter, Al Franken, and Michael Moore).  In these instances, I find it better not to respond. There is no sense feeding the monster.

Fortunately, I do not have to respond to Moss’s book because two very capable scholars have done this work for us. Michael Haykin of Southern Seminary has this to say,

Moss has the scholarly credentials and knowledge to make her case sound convincing, though, in the final analysis, her thesis is far from compelling.

And N. Clayton Croy from Trinity Lutheran Seminary sums up Moss’s work this way:

Despite the author’s considerable erudition, this is a deeply flawed book, a work of revisionist history.

Both of the reviews are fair and helpful and remind us that persecution is very real. Of course, Iraq, Syria, Egypt, Nigeria, Pakistan, and a host of other countries remind us of this fact as well.

How Serious Are You About the Lord’s Supper

“In 1530, not even two decades into the Reformation, Martin Luther lamented the way that Christians viewed the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, stating that ‘people now regard the holy sacrament of the body and blood of our Lord so lightly and assume an attitude toward it as if there were nothing on earth which they needed less than just this sacrament.’”[1]

Lord's Supper Bread WineWhen I first read that quote, I thought—Wow! If Luther thought the Lord’s Supper was treated casually in his day, what in the world would he think about our treatment of it today! I heard of a group of Christians who thought they could take the Lord’s Supper in their dorm room using Twinkies and Kool-aid. Even in established churches one gets the idea that the Lord’s Supper is often nothing more than a procedural stamp of approval so the service can conclude. There are even “all-in-one” disposable Lord’s Supper kits—wafer and grape juice in a single hygienic package to get the deed done in rapid-fire succession.

But historically speaking, the bread and the wine have been subjects of the utmost importance. A century or two before the arrival of Martin Luther, men like John Wycliffe were risking their lives to expound a biblical view of what we now call the practice of the Lord’s Supper.  Wycliffe escaped martyrdom, but not persecution. Indeed, he was ultimately condemned as a heretic by the Council of Constance in May of 1415—four decades after his death. Here is the Council’s condemnation of Wycliffe:

Furthermore, a process was begun, on the authority or by decree of the Roman council, and at the command of the church and of the apostolic see, after a due interval of time, for the condemnation of the said Wyclif and his memory. Invitations and proclamations were issued summoning those who wished to defend him and his memory, if any still existed. However, nobody appeared who was willing to defend him or his memory. Witnesses were examined by commissaries appointed by the reigning lord pope John and by this sacred council, regarding the said Wyclif’s final impenitence and obstinacy. Legal proof was thus provided, in accordance with all due observances, as the order of law demands in a matter of this kind, regarding his impenitence and final obstinacy. This was proved by clear indications from legitimate witnesses. This holy synod, therefore, at the instance of the procurator-fiscal and since a decree was issued to the effect that sentence should be heard on this day, declares, defines and decrees that the said John Wyclif was a notorious and obstinate heretic who died in heresy, and it anathematises him and condemns his memory. It decrees and orders that his body and bones are to be exhumed, if they can be identified among the corpses of the faithful, and to be scattered far from a burial place of the church, in accordance with canonical and lawful sanctions.

Why dig up a man’s bones and burn and scatter them forty years after he died? Because his crime was so heinous that his bodily remains could not be allowed to rest among the “faithful.” And what were these awful crimes? The Council enumerated 45 different anathemas of which it found Wycliffe guilty. Interestingly enough, the first 5 of his crimes were directly related to the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper. The Council pointed out that Wycliffe believed

  • The bread remained bread and the wine remained wine.
  • The bread didn’t just “appear” to be bread. It remained bread and not the flesh of Christ.
  • That Christ did not bodily become the bread.
  • And that the current (14th century) practice of the Mass was not supported by Scripture.

For these beliefs about the Lord’s Supper, Wycliffe’s body was exhumed and destroyed. He was condemned forever as a heretic. Today, most Protestants agree with Wycliffe’s observations about the Roman Catholic mass and its insistence upon the doctrine of transubstantiation (where the wine becomes the blood of Christ and the bread becomes his flesh).

While we can be glad that we are free to believe and practice the Lord’s Supper as we think it is taught in Scripture, we should not be casual or indifferent towards this ordinance. It is specifically commanded by Christ for us to practice, and it is designed by Christ for us to remember his sacrifice on our behalf and proclaim his greatness until he returns.

A great many of our Christian fathers have been persecuted—and some have even died—for the right to celebrate the Lord’s Supper by faith according to the Scriptures. The next time we go to take the bread and the wine, let us remember that this is no small practice. It has been ordained by Christ Himself so that we will remember him and preach him to the watching world. Let us remember that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures. Then let us obey our Lord’s command,

“Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.”

[1] Matthew Crawford, “On Faith, Signs, and Fruits: Martin Luther’s Theology of the Lord’s Supper,” in The Lord’s Supper: Remembering and Proclaiming Christ Until He Comes, NAC Studies in Bible and Theology (Nashville: B & H Academic, 2010), 193.

How Many Meanings Can a Biblical Text Have?

How many meanings can a biblical text have? Here is a good question—and a pertinent one. In Sunday school classes from coast to coast, in small group Bible studies, in house groups and house churches, this principle question is tested week after week.

Text hermeneutics single meaningIs it not quite common for a group of believers to sit around and say in turn, “To me, this text means…?” Some house churches even pride themselves on an equal meaning principle which says that no one is to be viewed as an authoritative preacher or teacher. All share equally in interpretations. But there are good reasons such careless language needs to be clarified and avoided.

A biblical text can have only one meaning, except in the rare cases in which the author uses double entendre (an intentional double meaning).[1],[2] If a text is able to mean different things to different people, then, ultimately, it doesn’t mean anything at all. Here is the correction that is needed: Texts mean what the author intended them to mean.

So meaning is bound by authorial intent. Such a bound meaning means that our work is to dig through the author’s writings to determine how he uses words and phrases, thus discovering what he intended to say when he put ink to parchment. This differs from common practice in three ways.

First, it obviously differs from the practice of “Reader Response,” in which the reader gets to decide the meaning for him(or her)self. Second, it differs from locating the meaning in the text itself, as though the text has a life of its own, morphing and changing from generation to generation. Third, it differs from many forms of “theological” interpretation which often include allegorical interpretations. What I have in mind here is laying some “higher” meaning over the text, saying things like, “We believe in the Scriptures as interpreted by Jesus.” The end result of this thinking is to free us (as Christ’s representatives) to believe—or not believe—whatever we wish from the Scriptures, justifying our belief by saying “What Jesus really meant was….”

The real work of a preacher or teacher begins with digging into the Scriptures to determine what the author meant for the reader to understand when he wrote the text. Obviously, a myriad of mitigating circumstances can make this task quite difficult. Our culture is not like David’s culture from 3,000 years ago. Our languages are different, too; and language differences always cause problems. Yet, there is a meaning the author willed, and that meaning is our original exegetical task.

At this point, we need some clarification. Usually, when our Christian brothers and sisters sit in a circle saying “to me, this text means,” they are not actually speaking of the meaning of the text; rather, they are speaking of their understanding of the text. So, technically, they might say, “My understanding of this text is….” Of course, our understanding could be wrong. We might misunderstand. The meaning itself is unaffected by our error. It is our understanding which must be corrected.

Another helpful clarification is that a text may have many applications, even if it has only one meaning. Take, for example, Paul’s admonition in Ephesians 5:18:

“And do not get drunk with win, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit.”

What is the clear meaning? Be wise. Don’t drink yourself to drunkenness. Rather, seek to fill yourself with God’s Spirit for Bible hermeneutics interpretation single meaningthe good of God’s people. (See vv. 15-21 for the reason that I added wisdom and fellowship to my interpretation of v. 18).

Ephesians 5:18 has a single meaning. My interpretation above represents my attempt to put into words Paul’s meaning. Like my understanding, my interpretation could also be wrong. Still, Paul’s meaning stands. Assuming that I am right about my interpretation, I can then move to an application from this text. The point of the verse is to practice wisdom, being filled with the Spirit for the good of others, while avoiding drunkenness. So, I could apply this to my own life and say that I will not get drunk on any alcoholic beverage (beer, bourbon, or wine). Others might realize that for them this would apply to their need of avoiding marijuana or narcotics. Paul’s meaning stands, even while the application to our lives differs.

These clarifications may seem like a nit-picking of words. But there is an enormous cost to saying that a text has many different meanings. If a text can mean different things to different people, then who can say that the cult leader David Koresh was not the Lamb of Revelation 5?  Koresh believed that Revelation 5 spoke of him and his ability to open the scrolls (see here).  Hmmm… I think he was wrong—fatally wrong—and guilty of distorting the Scriptures to his own destruction (cf. 2 Peter 3:16). There is a right way to interpret Scripture and a wrong way.  And the right way is to begin with the author’s intended meaning.

Let’s be helpful to our brothers and sisters in our small groups and Bible studies. Let’s encourage each other to share interpretations of the Scripture together and to tell how the Holy Spirit is leading us to apply those Scriptures in our own lives, but let us all agree that God led these authors to write certain things with single meaning and purpose. Our work is to pursue that meaning and purpose and obey it joyfully, while honoring our pastors and teachers who pay extra close attention to such things.

Definitions Needed for Persecuted Christians in Nigeria

Why Definitions Matter

[1] See for instance John 2:19-22, in which Jesus speaks of the temple of his body, but the disciples obviously understand the temple to be in Jerusalem—but realize the full meaning of Christ’s teaching after his resurrection.

[2] The principle of single meaning was affirmed in Article VII by the 1982 International Council on Biblical Inerrancy.

What Good Is Hell?

The doctrine of eternal hell is one of the most controversial of Christian beliefs—even among professing Christians!  For some, the doctrine is simply unthinkable. Thus, like a nasty family secret, the doctrine is tucked away in a mental category called “Let’s not talk about that anymore.” For others, Hell is to be explained away through a belief in annihilation (that we will finally be destroyed) or universalism (that somehow all will be saved eventually). 

Persecution and HellEven Christian leaders who are convinced of the biblical teaching concerning a literal hell find themselves struggling with the concept and almost apologetic about its inclusion in the canon (see one example of such struggling in this review of Erasing Hell). According to one scholar, however, the New Testament is not as squeamish about eternal torment as 21st century Americans. 

Chris Morgan, editor of Hell Under Fire and a wheel barrow full of other evangelical books, has written a fascinating little article in the most recent edition of the Southern Baptist Journal of Theology. His article displays his passionate, pastoral heart, along with his focused, intentional mind:

There is a sense in which we sympathize with these concerns. In a very real sense, hell is tragic, because sin is tragic. We are rightly repulsed by people who angrily and gleefully wave banners such as “You’re going to hell!” as weapons in their cultural wars. No, we do not want people to go to hell, we are grieved at the prospect, and we pray, minister, give, and witness in hopes that people will come to Christ for salvation, glorifying God as worshippers of Jesus.

But Morgan is neither naïve nor satisfied with mere sentimentality. He delves further into biblical teaching to discover an untapped mine of theological riches concerning hell and persecuted Christians.  (And once again, the biblical text challenges what we think we know.) Meditate on this amazing realization from Dr. Morgan:

Far from displaying our current moral angst, the Bible routinely portrays hell as right, just, and an aspect of God’s final victory. Even more, the Bible regularly instructs about hell in order to comfort God’s people, particularly those undergoing severe persecution…

After quoting Paul (2 Thessalonians 1:5-10), Morgan offers this insightful commentary from that text:

Paul comforts these believers by emphasizing the just judgment of God:  “God’s judgment is right” … “God is just: he will pay back trouble for those that trouble you.” … Thus, these persecuted Christians can find hope in God’s retributive and vindicating judgment.

So what good is there in hell? It is a sign of God’s victory to encourage the faith of God’s saints suffering persecution.

I really appreciate these insights from Dr. Morgan. I’m sure you will, too. You can read the whole article here.

Should Evangelicals Advocate for Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, and Others?

So far, my family and I have traveled more than 6,000 miles. We still have hundreds of miles to go on this great American road trip that at one point hugged the border with Mexico through west Texas, and, now, has ascended over a mile high into the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. From the red rock formations of Utah to the steamy swamps and marshes of southern Louisiana, we are seeing America.

Family Christian Family Persecution

Ultimately, however, our trip is not about the scenery; it’s about family. We covered these miles because they formed an artificial barrier, attempting to separate us from the people who are near and dear to our hearts. The distance—even as great as it is—could not finally separate us from our family. From this reality of family, another arises—a theological one.

Distance always tries to separate us:  I’m an evangelical, reformed, southern Baptist. I realize that I am a long way from being a Roman Catholic or an Eastern Orthodox believer—such as we find (or once found) in Iraq and the Middle East. Yet even with the distance that separates us, there is a name which we hold in common that unites us; it is, of course, the name of Christ. Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, Reformed Presbyterian, Southern Baptist, Wesley Methodist—these are names which make up the complete Christian family tree.  Think about our road trip again.

On this circling trek of the western U.S., we visited more than Cochrans. We visited Hobsons and Hortons, Smiths and Sims, Augustines and Gibbs—and all these names were somehow directly related to us. Just as each family lives by different rules and governs itself apart from our family, so, too, each of the church families mentioned above have different beliefs and share different traditions. They have different rules of governing and hold doctrines with which I cannot in good faith agree; yet I most certainly do advocate for them as a Christian.

I was asked recently if I could explain why I, an evangelical, think it is necessary to advocate for variant Christian traditions inColorado Family Christian Persecution the matter of persecution. The question was serious and worthy of consideration. This brother is not a narrow, ridged sectarian. His question arises, for instance, from the tension within Christianity—since the Reformation—which often blurs the line between our allies and our enemies. I would not allow a Roman Catholic, for example, to partake of the Lord’s Supper or administer baptism in my Baptist church. We are in that sense divided. My wife, for instance, attended mass with her father in south Louisiana, but she did not take the wafer and could not repeat one of the chants. We remain divided.

Our division—though very real—should also not be overstated. We must insist that division exists, or we fall into the squishy ecumenism which dilutes doctrine altogether. Even with division—even though thousands of miles separate our doctrinal and ecclesiastical nearness—we still have family. As in my own family, I recognize that Christian family may exist by other names with other peculiarities. Maybe we can revert to the family analogy for yet another explanation.

We all probably have family members whom we would not trust to watch our kids overnight, right?  Let’s say you have a relative whom you would not trust with your kids. Nevertheless, if that same relative were diagnosed with cancer, would you not show mercy? Would you not make the hospital visit and do your part to care for him and his family? Whatever the distance which divides, the nearness of family closes that chasm in times of crisis. Such is the case around the world today. Christians are in crisis.

Christian persecution Mosul IraqIn biblical terms, Christ offers his blessing for those who are persecuted on account of his name (Matthew 5:11). Peter says it this way,

If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you.

In Iraq, the believers are not typically evangelical. They are from the Eastern Orthodox tradition. Nevertheless, they were targeted because of the name of Christ. Their houses were painted with an Arabic “N” so Islamists would know that followers of the Nazarene lived there. What Christian can refuse a brother in such need? If we believe we are called to come to the aid of humanity in times of crisis, can we then believe that coming to the aid of “Nazarenes” would be a sin? Let us help our brothers and sisters find shelter, food, and safety. Once those tasks are done, we can continue opening the Word with them, contending for the faith. In other words, let’s not allow our debates over ecclesiology to eclipse our fight against evil.

Why the Mark Driscoll Deal Is Not a Big Deal

As we crowded into the square area designated as the living room, our group of Christian believers talked mostly of our families and of news and events in the Christian world. This was a reunion of sorts, as the people gathered here had not been together in one place for more than a year. It was, in so many ways, a sweet remembrance of shared lives.

Persecution big deal for ChristiansThe conversation only enhanced the sweetness of the hour, but the conversation wasn’t always sweet. The route the conversation took back to sweetness traversed a crooked trail. Our first conversation centered on the trending events of social media. Immediately, we discussed Mark Driscoll and Acts 29. Why? Because that is what everyone in the evangelical world was talking about.

One of the young women in the room had been stuck unexpectedly in an office with nothing to do, so she had spent the day before reading all the articles related to the Driscoll “controversy.” She reported that the controversy did not seem as major as Tweets and Facebook posts made it sound. Another young woman agreed and particularly lamented the lack of detail that accompanied most of the articles she had read. She mentioned a particular article from a Christian magazine which linked to accusations and commentary, but did not link to the actual statements from Acts 29.

The more we talked, the more realized that we were talking about very little. In fact, the group agreed unanimously that we, too, had become guilty of tabloid Christianity. We fell prey to the titillation of scandal. One of our “stars” was falling. Speculations of the fallout were morbidly thrilling to our minds. Then we came to our senses. We realized that Mark Driscoll—even in this current flurry of news—is not a big deal.

Our attention turned at that point to some of the stories in Christianity which are—or should be—really big deals:Christian persecution Mosul Iraq

Men, women, and children are being beheaded on sight if ISIS believes they are Christian.

In Nigeria, more than 2,000 women have become widows because their husbands loved Jesus Christ unto death.

One Somali Christian couple fled persecution and oppression in their homeland. They ended up in a refugee center in Kenya, where they were found by Islamists who shot them several times, leaving them for dead.

More than 1,500 Christians have been slaughtered mercilessly in Homs (Syria).

All over the world, Christians are persecuted severely.

As our little fellowship scanned the Christian world scene, we concluded that the stories which fill our Twitter feeds and satisfy our need for a social buzz are not necessarily the same stories that deeply burden heaven. The saints around the throne, we are told, cry day and night, “How long, O, Lord!,” in an urgent expectation of Jesus returning to avenge the blood of his saints.

So, if we take our cue from the New Testament, we will remember to join heaven both in our rejoicing when sinners repent (Luke 15:10) and in our crying for justice when saints are oppressed (Revelation 6:10) . With all due respect to Mark Driscoll and other stars who stumble, we have much bigger issues to occupy our time and our Twitter feeds. Let us pray for our leaders when they are leading and when they are stumbling. Let us pray for the ones whose stories briefly capture our imagination. But, by all means, let us remember our brothers and sisters who are ill-treated since we ourselves are in the body.

Should Christians Stage Protests Against Persecution

So, in part one of this post, we saw that prayer was the first response of the Italian Bishops to the crisis of Christian persecution in Iraq and Nigeria. While not exactly endorsing their view of invoking the Virgin Mary in their prayers (I’m Protestant!), I still commend the bishops for a biblical recourse to prayer. The Apostle Paul constantly cried for Christians to help him through his suffering by joining with him in prayer (Eph 6:19, Col 4:3, 2 Thess 3:1ff).

Christians Protest PersecutionPrayer is no small part of our aiding our suffering brothers and sisters in Christ. Prayer is effective (James 5:16).  And yet, we always feel that we should do something more. So the question rises, can we do more? More specifically, we must ask, Is it good for Christians to protest Christian persecution? All around us, folks in our democratic republic have determined to protest publicly, thereby raising awareness and calling for government action on behalf of their special political concerns.

In America especially, protesting has been employed as an instrument of righteousness, calling both the government and the country at large to notice injustices like inequality for blacks and women. Of course, some—like the misguided Westboro Baptist family—abuse the privilege of protesting. But protesting is not altogether unbiblical.

While the New Testament did not arise from the context of 21st century America and, thus, does not have recourse to staged protests on Capitol Hill—the New Testament does offer a small dose of the spirit of government protest. For example, Paul and Silas were thrown into prison unlawfully in Philippi. While there, they were beaten without having first been tried. So, when their release orders came, rather than celebrating their release and taking off to preach the gospel (or just getting the heck out of town), Paul and Silas staged a protest instead.

“Paul said to the officers: ‘They beat us publicly without a trial, even though we are Roman citizens, and threw us into prison.  And now do they want to get rid of us quietly? No! Let them come themselves and escort us out’” (Acts 16:37, NIV).

More recently, in response to the slaughter of Christians in Iraq, displaced Iraqi Christians in Australia and Canada have begun staging protests, calling on government and citizens to take action, leveraging the power of the state in favor of aiding desperate Christians. I think we can support the actions of these brothers and sisters of faith. While our primary thrust must always be to avoid trusting in Australian chariots and Canadian horses, we are stillChristian persecution Mosul Iraq a part of those democratic governments. As citizens ourselves, we are still salt and light and should make use of every instrument available to us to endorse righteousness before God and man.

Christians ought to write letters to prisoners, write letters to congressmen and senators and governors. Christians ought to protest as they feel led. Christians ought to write songs, make movies, write books and articles, and stage events which remind the church and the culture at large that our king has come and will return, bringing with him great rewards for those who embrace the life He came to give.

Protesting, while neither the first nor the best response to persecution, is a legitimate biblical response. Just as John the Baptist held Herod accountable for his unrighteous deeds, so, too, Christians can graciously and prophetically call leaders to correct their unrighteous behavior—especially when that unrighteous behavior is directed specifically against the body of Christ. So, we can be thankful that Christians in Australia and Canada are speaking out. And we Christians in America may want to think about what more we can do in addition to our prayers.