#What Is Aleppo? Why Christians must care


What is Aleppo? The question seems innocent enough to most Americans. But back in September, the question lit up Twitter ( #WhatIsAleppo ) and made Independent presidential candidate Gary Johnson appear even more out of touch with reality. When asked about his response to the crisis in Aleppo, Johnson replied, “And what is Aleppo?”

It’s one thing for an average American to be unsure about Aleppo’s whereabouts; it’s another thing entirely when someone aspiring to be president is not aware of its existence.

aleppo-city-viewSo, what is Aleppo? Aleppo is an ancient city, one of the oldest cities on earth. Aleppo was around before Jesus was born in Bethlehem. And Aleppo existed before King David killed Goliath. Indeed, people were dwelling in Aleppo before Moses was born in Egypt. People have been living in the ancient city of Aleppo (now the second largest city in Syria) for more than 4,000 years.

Today—partly because it is Syria’s second largest city—Aleppo has become the flashpoint in Syria’s civil war. The civil war in Syria is a power struggle to determine who controls Syria and this region of the Middle East. Daniel Horowitz explains,

In Syria, there is a fight between Assad/ Hezbollah/Russia/Iran vs. Al Qaeda splinter groups, Ahrar al Sham, and the Islamic State — with Turkey, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia funding a number of the Islamic fundamentalist rebels.

Uri Friedman of The Atlantic describes Aleppo’s significance this way:

If Assad, along with his Russian and Iranian allies, were to emerge victorious in Aleppo, it would have consequences beyond Syria, Tabler added: “It would be a tremendous loss for the U.S. and its traditional allies: Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Jordan. … This would also be a huge loss for the United States vis-à-vis Russia in its Middle East policy, certainly. And because of the flow of refugees as a result of this, if they go northward to Europe, then you would see a migrant crisis in Europe that could lead to far-right governments coming to power which are much more friendly to Russia than they are to the United States.” In other words, to answer Gary Johnson’s question, Aleppo is a lot more than a Syrian city.

These quotes make a couple of important points. One, a serious war is waging in Aleppo, and it involves a number of world powers, not the least of which are the U.S. and Russia…apparently on opposing sides. The significance of Aleppo in world events is evident in the recent assassination of Russian ambassador Andrei Karlov. Karlov’s assassin allegedly shouted “Remember Aleppo” after killing the ambassador. Clearly, Aleppo is front and center in world affairs.

Two, Christians in Syria in general and Aleppo in particular have no real allies. Which would be better—to face the oppression of the Assad form of Islam or side with the Al-Qaeda rebels and live under their brand of Islamic extremism? It would be difficult in good conscience to waive a banner for either team in this civil war.

Back in 2011-2012, the U.S. thought it was intolerable that 10,000 Syrians were killed. Our government thus decided to fortify the rebellion against the Assad government. But Assad’s government did not topple. Russia and Iran reinvigorated that government with military might to reassert its dominance. And the result has been horrific. CNN reports,

Since the war began in 2011, an estimated 400,000 Syrians have been killed, according to the United Nations.

As of December 2016, 4.81 million Syrians have fled the country and 6.3 million people are displaced internally.

What should Christians do?aleppo-syria

Without a doubt, Christians must pray for all the citizens of Aleppo. The people of Syria are suffering at the hands of their political leaders, who, in some sense, serve as religious leaders, too. There are reports that churches are growing because Muslims are disillusioned by the violence and are looking for answers. As one Christian from Aleppo says,

“But you know what’s surprising? The church is still full; displaced people take their place. Especially Muslims are coming to the church now.”

Christians must pray specifically for other Christians in Syria. The Christian district in Aleppo has been all but obliterated. About 90% of Christians in the area have either died or fled to a safer location like Lebanon. Those Christians remaining are living without electricity, gas, heat, and even without water. Conditions are not just terrible. They are life-threatening. And yet, ministry needs and opportunities are increasing. Imagine surviving through such difficulties, while having the opportunity to minister to many Muslims through your church. It’s an unusual opportunity to say the least.

For anyone interested, Global Hunger Relief operates in Syria. The advantage of GHR is that it operates on a volunteer basis, ensuring that 100% of funds given actually go toward meeting needs, not paying staff.

http://globalhungerrelief.com/news/detail/syrian-refugees

How Mark Links Christ to Persecuted Christians


onelinkThe Bible is the one written word of God from Genesis (original creation) to Revelation (the new heavens and the new earth). There is one consistent story (creation-fall-redemption) narrated throughout the 66 books of the Bible. The four gospel accounts (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) are early attempts to consolidate the entire story into short summaries (“gospels” or tracts that tell the good news of God’s redemption).

The story of God and his dominion was prophesied through Isaiah in the Old Testament. In the New Testament, Mark builds upon Isaiah’s prophecy to picture Jesus as its fulfillment. In Mark’s story, when Jesus calls the disciples to follow him, he calls them to follow him personally in the work he is accomplishing.

Jesus commands his disciples, “Follow me.” Jesus calls his disciples to follow him in Mark 1:17; 2:14; and 8:34, with the first-person pronoun (me) present each time, thus indicating that their call was not a generic following of a religion or a political action committee; rather, the call was to follow Jesus Christ himself.

The personal nature of this call was made clear by Peter, who said in 10:28, “Behold, we have left everything and followed you.” The disciples left their families and jobs for this single purpose: to follow Jesus Christ. The gospel of Mark makes clear that this following of Jesus means following also the kingship mission he was accomplishing.

The gospel of Mark unfolds the relationship between Christ and his followers as beginning with the call to be in the presence of Christ but always accompanying that call with the expectation that the disciples will also join with Christ in announcing the coming of a new kingdom. The disciples are called to more than a profession of faith. They are called to join “the initiation of God’s sovereign action that brings salvation and is to end in a transformed universe.”[1]

They are called to faith, to believe (1:14-15). Being called for Christ’s sake and for the sake of the gospel in Mark is similar to being called on account of righteousness in Matthew. Also in Mark 3:14, Jesus appointed twelve to be in his presence and to go out and preach, and, in this one verse,  two controlling ideas are found: presence and practice. From the time of their calling, the disciples are called both to Christ’s presence and to the practice of obedience.

Being thus connected to the presence and practice of Christ, faithful followers are expected to suffer opposition and even persecution–just as Christ did–because they are empowered by Christ himself to continue his kingdom work. Christ explained this to his first followers, for instance, in Mark 10:29-30:

29 Jesus said, “Amen, I say to you, there is no one who has given up house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands for my sake and for the sake of the gospel 30 who will not receive a hundred times more now in this present age: houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and eternal life in the age to come. 

 Just as the world and its powers fought against the work Christ was doing in the first century, so, today, similar powers will oppose the work our Lord continues to accomplish through us.

[1]G. R. Beasley-Murray, “Matthew 6:33: The Kingdom of God and the Ethics of Jesus,” in Neues Testament und Ethik, ed. Rudolf Schnackenburg (Freiburg: Herder, 1989), 88, referencing Mark 1:15.

Don’t Be Afraid of Bad Disciples


Have you ever sacrificed your time and your energy to invest in other people? You probably spent time with them in discipleship, building them up in God’s Word, only to have them go astray and turn away from all you taught them. It hurts, doesn’t it? It seems like a life-investment with no return.

Christ definition disciple what is disciple christianThe founders of Southern Seminary in Louisville learned early in the life of that great institution the pain of a life investment lost.  One of the first and brightest students to come through Southern Seminary was Crawford H. Toy.  By all accounts, he was a brilliant student and became an early faculty member at Southern.  But then he went astray.

Basil Manly said that Toy “breathed an atmosphere of doubt” until it became his “ritual air.” Toy abandoned his position on the reliability of Scripture.  He left Southern and became a professor at Harvard, where he would later become a Unitarian.  This move crushed the founders of Southern Seminary, men who had invested greatly in Toy.  James P. Boyce, upon leaving Toy at the train station for his departure from Southern Seminary (and biblical orthodoxy), famously cried out—with his right arm held high: “Oh, Toy, I would freely give that arm to be cut off if you could be where you were five years ago, and stay there.”

What pastor or serious man of God would not freely offer himself as Boyce did to preserve the soul of a young man in whom he has made a life investment? Sadly, Christian history—beginning with Judas—is riddled with men who have been as close to the truth as darkness is to the light that shines into it, and yet have turned away in the end.  Such a turn from truth is grievous for a teacher to see.

Today is Reformation Day, October 31st.  As you celebrate the freedoms of the Protestant Reformation, remember that good and faithful pastors have paved the way for you to receive God’s Word. For those of us who speak English, remember William Tyndale, the father of the English Reformation.

William Tyndale was the first man to translate and publish the Bible in English.  For his translation and publishing efforts, he was killed—strangled, then burned at the stake.  And yet, his work remains.  Indeed, when the King James (authorized) translation was produced, the committee retained about 84% of Tyndale’s interpretations. Tyndale studied, labored, and died so we could have access to Scripture in our own language.

You may have heard the story of William Tyndale. But you probably haven’t heard much about Henry Phillips. Henry Phillips was something of a drifter, a castaway.  He was a gambler whose situation had become so desperate that he stole money from his own father to pay his debts. And yet, William Tyndale took him in.

Tyndale shared his meals with Phillips.  Tyndale made a life investment in Phillips, sharing with him the glorious joy of justification by faith alone.  Tyndale showed Phillips all his latest manuscripts and shared with him the plans he had for Bible publication in England.  Few people were given such privileged access by this great Reformer.

And in May of 1535, the life investment Tyndale made in Henry Phillips paid its diabolical Reformation Tyndale english persecutiondividend.  Phillips turned on Tyndale, leading him into a trap in which soldiers easily subdued the wily wordsmith.  Tyndale was led away to a dungeon in Vilvoorde Castle.  From there, he was taken to his death.  Henry Phillips was able to pay a few more debts with his blood money.

As we consider our own life-investments lost, let us be mindful of William Tyndale, whose great work still remains nearly 500 years after his death. He may regret the investment he made in Henry Phillips, but William Tyndale—I am sure—has no regrets about investing his own life in the work of the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Ultimately, the life investments we make are for the gospel. Thus, they are never in vain.

Happy Reformation Day! And keep up the good work.

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]

A PERSONAL EXAMPLE

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


AN ANCIENT PRINCIPLE

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).

IN AMERICAN PRACTICE

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.

PakistanOpenDoors

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.