Space, Steve Miller, and a Good Christian Time


 

About forty years ago, my friend and I sat excitedly as the diamond needle made its way from the edge of the vinyl disc toward the center. Reliably, the turntable rotated at 33.3 RPM until the needle made its way to the grooved section with the song we most wanted to hear: “Fly Like an Eagle” by the Steve Miller Band.

bald-eagle-521492_1920As Miller’s melody filled the air, we experienced many feelings; disappointment wasn’t among them! The instant the “space intro” began to play, we were transported from our south Louisiana homes into a far-away world of rhythmic delight.

More recently, in a different small town in south Louisiana, scientists were likewise transported into a far-away place of audible fascination, but theirs was not a musical adventure—at least not technically. Scientists detected a faint chirp from deep space, instantaneously affirming Einstein’s century-old prediction that gravitational waves permeate our universe.

Writing in the New York Times, Dennis Overbye describes this chirp as music to the scientist’s ear,

“If replicated by future experiments, that simple chirp, which rose to the note of middle C before abruptly stopping, seems destined to take its place among the great sound bites of science, ranking with Alexander Graham Bell’s “Mr. Watson — come here” and Sputnik’s first beeps from orbit.”

On September 14, 2015, scientists at two different LIGO[1] facilities in Washington and Louisiana achieved the milestone discovery of GW150914—the first directly observed gravitational wave in space. Lasting only 0.2 seconds, the chirp of this wave reverberated around the world to the delight of scientists everywhere. Though discovered in September 2015, the wave was not announced until February 2016. Scientists ever since have been heralding the wave detection as a major achievement in science. Bruce Gordon of the Discovery Institute calls this discovery “the real thing,” while Szabolcs Marka of Columbia University says it is one of the major breakthroughs of physics. Eric Katsavounidis (LIGO team member) says, “This is the end of the silent-movie era in astronomy.”[2]

Astronomers are ecstatic about this discovery for more than one reason. Sure, Blog universe-2368403_1920GW150914 affirms an important aspect of Einstein’s theory of relativity. Perhaps more importantly, the detection of this gravitational wave means an entirely new dimension of exploration is unfolding. In the past, scientists studied the universe mainly by observing light. Now, gravitational waves can be studied throughout the cosmos, further clarifying aspects of motion, time, and origin of the cosmos. Adding gravitational waves is like adding sound to the light of the universe.

Years before my friend and I even heard of the Steve Miller Band, scientists had already begun working to observe gravitational waves. LIGO began as a dream in the 1960’s with scientists like Kip Thorne at Caltech. These scientists persevered through funding issues, research setbacks, and technology deficiencies for forty-eight years before their dream of detecting a gravitational wave was realized. If nothing else, the achievement stands as a testimony to human perseverance.

In 1916, Einstein first proposed finding gravitational waves. The search for these waves began in earnest about fifty years ago. Construction of super-technical, super-sensitive equipment began two decades ago. Over the last two decades, more than two hundred million dollars were invested in upgrades to the two LIGO observatories, culminating in a final round of intensive upgrades over the last five years. And just about a year ago—before the equipment was officially ready to launch—it happened. The chirp sounded (listen here). For two-tenths of a second, the earth surfed across a gravitational wave. Scientists worldwide rightly applauded.

Gravitational wave GW150914 was produced by the final collapse of spiraling, binary black holes. These spiraling black holes were once massive stars which collapsed into themselves, then into each other. Each of these black holes began as stars with a mass thirty times that of our sun. The collapse of the two stars, and the consequent merger of the two black holes, happened 1.4 billion light years away in the Southern Celestial Hemisphere.

No one on earth felt the gravitational wave. Without the sophisticated, ultra-sensitive LIGO equipment, no one would ever have known that such a wave existed. But because of LIGO scientists who were able to split laser beams and send them through 2.5 mile long vacuum tubes 90 degrees apart in Louisiana and Washington, the world now knows for sure that gravitational waves are rippling through the cosmos like intergalactic whirlpools. It’s easy to see why physicists are so excited.

Christians should join their applause. LIGO is a monumental achievement. Christians might be tempted to conflate this discovery too quickly into an argument for design (against evolution), or to question the assumptions of origins (for fiat creation against Big Bang cosmology). Scientists do tend to leave a number of metaphysical questions hanging like the ill-fitting apparel we put on the discarded clothes rack in fitting rooms. Charles Q. Choi explains it this way:

“Since the universe by its definition encompasses all of space and time as we know it, NASA says it is beyond the model of the Big Bang to say what the universe is expanding into or what gave rise to the Big Bang. Although there are models that speculate about these questions, none of them have made realistically testable predictions as of yet.”[3]

blog galaxies-connectedWhy is the universe expanding? To what end is the universe expanding? Is there a purpose built into the expansion? Where did the energy and mass derive from which the Big Bang occurred? Why should there be a Big Bang in the first place? These and many other questions remain unanswered. In truth, GW150914 answers some questions, refuses to answer other questions, and reveals still more fascinating questions waiting to be asked.

One such question in my own mind is how does this discovery affect our understanding of time and history. Ostensibly, the experiment had little to do with time; it was an experiment designed to detect gravitational waves in space. Yet everything about the experiment extols the virtues of linear time.

Think back to the song “Fly Like an Eagle.” The song wished for a revolution to eradicate poverty. Steve Miller wished he could fly like an eagle until he was free from the suffering in this world. Miller hoped for progress over time. One of the more memorable lines from the song is the confident refrain, “Time keeps on slippin’, slippin’, into the future.”

Like those of us whose cognitive formation took place in a western tradition, Steve Miller assumed that time is linear—that time progresses toward a defined point which we call the future. Does the notion of linear time correspond to the reality of the cosmos? Eastern religions doubt linear time. Even in the West, some have begun to doubt that time has a fixed beginning and a linear progression into the future.

Friedrich Nietzsche may be the most influential philosopher in the West to argue against linear time. According to Nietzsche, time occurs in a series of endless loops, a system he referred to as eternal recurrence. In this system, time is more like a wheel, turning round and round but going nowhere. Human action is rendered insignificant because whatever is has already been and will be again. In eternal recurrence, human action is pre-determined by the cycle of time. Thus, no human action ultimately changes history. The future is swallowed up in the past. So Nietzsche explained in Zarathustra, “The soul is as mortal as the body. But the knot of causes in which I am entangled recurs and will create me again.”[4]

Nietzsche was comfortable with—if not excited by—this loss of future meaning, but not everyone shares his zeal for embracing (and thus defying) the meaninglessness of human existence. Philosopher Ron Nash points out that Nietzsche’s eternal recurrence robbed history of meaning: “In order for history to have significance, it must have a goal. Without a purpose or goal, neither history nor individual human lives can have significance. Without a goal, there would be no basis by which mere change could be identified as progress.”[5]

It’s easy to see that the LIGO scientists pay close attention to history—especially the last 100 years. Not only history, these scientists are serious and sober about the future. They believe they are making progress, but they know they are only scratching the surface. They are determined to learn as much as they can before they die, leaving a knowledge trail for future scientists. In other words, these scientists believe in progress. LIGO scientists believe in the future.

The optimism of this work affirms in three ways the linear concept of time: First, that this universe has a single point of origin. Second, that this is an orderly universe which remains intact over time. Third, that the work done presently matters (has enduring significance not just now but in the future). These scientists share a belief in the progress of knowledge (preservation and advancement).

Christians, too, believe the universe has a single point of origin. We proclaim the significance of human life now with great confidence toward the future. We believe, for instance, that Christ died for our sins once in history for all time, and the benefits of that death endure to the future.

Christians should join the celebration of GW150914. The discovery of this wave affirms the way we see the universe. Christians and physicists agree that time is significant for human beings in the past and present. This discovery also means that we can keep singing Steve Miller, as time keeps on slipping, slipping into the future.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                [1] LIGO stands for Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory. There are two observatories, one in Livingston, LA, the other near Richland, WA.

[2] As quoted by Robert Naeye, Sky and Telescope, February 11, 2016, accessed [on-line] 27 January 2016: http://www.skyandtelescope.com/astronomy-news/gravitational-wave-detection-heralds-new-era-of-science-0211201644/

                [3] Charles Q. Choi, “Our Expanding Universe: Age, History, and Other Facts,” Space.Com (January 13, 2015), accessed January 30, 2017, [on-line] http://www.space.com/52-the-expanding-universe-from-the-big-bang-to-today.html

 

                [4] As Quoted in C. Ivan Spencer, The Tweetable Nietzsche (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2016), 104. Originally, this quotation is found in Nietzsche, Friedrich, Thus Spoke Zarathustra [III, “The Convalescent”].

[5] Ron Nash, The Meaning of History (Nashville: Broadman and Holman, 1998), 38.

Why Getting So Angry Might Not Help


Angry Bee BlogWhen a honey bee gets angry, it stings.  After the sting, it dies.  Literally, the bee gives its life in defense of its anger seeking revenge.  Our anger is often like that of the bee.  It is volatile and deadly.  And, like the bee, we are able to inflict only a temporary pain to the objects of our ire, yet we are likely to kill ourselves in the process.  The anger of man (or woman) does not bring about the righteousness of God (James 1:20).

Of course, I don’t mean that we physically die, as does the bee. Rather, I mean that something about us is lost when we unleash our poisonous stingers of anger against others.  We lose a right relationship with the person for one thing.  For another thing, we lose control of our own emotions.  But, even beyond these losses, we lose something else—something far more valuable than any reward of satisfaction we get by cutting another man or woman down to size.  We lose sight of God.

You see, our anger does not establish righteousness.  No matter how angry we get, no matter how many people we bring alongside of us to share in our anger, we cannot prove by that anger that we are right.  Miriam was angry with Moses. Moses was angry with Miriam and with the people in the wilderness.  The people in the wilderness were angry with God and Moses. Yet, none of these was considered righteous by God.  All their grumblings were sin.  In fact, their anger ended up making God angry with them because of their unbelief.

Did it matter that it was the majority opinion that they had a right to be angry?  No.  God does not establish righteousness by majority opinion.  He establishes righteousness by His own righteousness.  No matter how mad we get, no matter how many hornet’s nests of anger we stir up in others, no matter the size of the crowd or the volume of the protests—we will never attain to the righteousness of God by our anger.  Indeed, as with the case of the Israelites in the wilderness, our anger may only be a clear presentation of our own unrighteousness.  It does not matter that “everyone agAnger Blogrees” with our reason for being angry.  The anger of man does not—and will not ever—bring about the righteousness of God.  We lose sight of God when we curse our spouses, our bosses, our employees, our teachers, our team mates, our roommates, our siblings, or our parents.

Because we lose sight of God, we lose sight of ourselves, too.  Perhaps the worst thing our outbursts of anger prove is that we have a very unrealistic view of ourselves before God.  If we had any idea of how deeply our own private and public sins offend God, we would not dare allow our tongues out of our mouths as weapons to be employed against others.  We would be quiet and still in the presence of God’s holiness, and we would see sufficient reason for keeping our own mouths shut, lest He become angry with us, and we perish along the way.

So, anger clearly makes us think too highly of ourselves, too lowly of others, and way too little of God.  Instead of an outburst of anger, we should work to burst outwardly with grace toward others, remembering that Christ taught us “By your standard of measure, it will be measured to you.  Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? (Matthew 7:2-3)

God simply refuses to be impressed with our anger.  He is too impressed with His Son who cleanses us from murderous thoughts and outbursts of anger (see Galatians 5).  May we be as impressed with Christ as the Father.  If that be the case, we would not exalt ourselves above others.  We would be much quieter and gentler.  And we would be more loving… and more joyful.

Why God Cares for the Poor: An Old Testament Perspective


PoorThe Old Testament locates justice in God and understands that people called by his name ought also to practice justice, beginning with their own families and their own covenant community. The rationale behind such a design is organic and seems inescapable. How could an Israelite demand in the name of God that justice be carried out in Samaria or Nineveh or Egypt or Philistia if the Israelite did not first carry out justice in Israel? It was the nation of Israel which was to be a light to the Gentiles. Indeed, Deuteronomy 4:7-8 sums up the thought perfectly:

“For what great nation is there that has a god so near to it as the LORD our God is to us, whenever we call upon him? What great nation is there that has statutes and judgments as righteous as this whole law which I am setting before you today?”

The people of God were expected to stand out because of the very fact they had access to the word of God. While the concept of covenant community is often forgotten in conversations regarding civil justice, it ought not be. The watching world is supposed to see something different about God’s covenant community as a whole. Both an individual and corporate witness was expected to be on display, as each Israelite was shaped ultimately by the just and righteous God who made them a nation in the first place.

Unfortunately, Israel too often failed to maintain God’s standard of righteousness in their own community. Thus, God sent prophets to proclaim his righteousness, calling the people back to repentance. These prophets and righteous ones often became the persecuted (Jer. 20:2), the outcast (1 Kings 18:4), and the needy (Gen. 37:36). Thus, quite often in the Old Testament the righteous and the poor are grouped together. Being righteous was, sadly, often the means by which one became poor. The pairing of these two concepts in Amos 2:6 makes the point: “Thus says the LORD:

“For three transgressions of Israel,

and for four, I will not revoke the punishment,

because they sell the righteous for silver,

and the needy for a pair of sandals” (ESV).

The shock value of Amos 2:6 is, of course, that it is aimed at the covenant children of Israel.  God’s people, Israel—of all people in the world—ought to have enacted justice and righteousness. Instead, God’s people actually oppressed the righteous. These needy people were not righteous because they were poor; rather, they were poor because they were righteous.[1]

Their concern for God’s righteousness likely cost them social standing and opportunity, ultimately leading to their being oppressed. God does indeed care for the poor, but he has a particular concern for the righteous poor—which certainly includes the persecuted who are poor on account of him.

 

                [1] This insight comes from Old Testament Professor Jeff Mooney, who has made the case in conversations with me that the poor in the Old Testament are often poor because they suffer on account of righteousness.

*This post is adapted from chapter 12 of Christians in the Crosshairs.

 

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.

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).

 

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).

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.

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.

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…

View original post 217 more words

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?

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/

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.

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.

Christians Can’t Trust Chariots or Horses


The people of God seem always to struggle with exactly how to relate to powerful governments. Israel hated her slavery in Egypt under Pharaoh, but promptly wanted to go back to Egypt after landing in the wilderness. At least in Egypt she could have melons. This longing to go back to Egypt and trust in her chariots and horses haunted Israel of old. Thus, the prophet Isaiah later warned (Isaiah 30),

Christians Under Pressure Persecution1“Woe to the rebellious children,” declares the LORD,

            “Who execute a plan, but not Mine,

            And make an alliance, but not of My Spirit,

            In order to add sin to sin;

      2Who proceed down to Egypt

            Without consulting Me,

            To take refuge in the safety of Pharaoh

            And to seek shelter in the shadow of Egypt!

      3“Therefore the safety of Pharaoh will be your shame

            And the shelter in the shadow of Egypt, your humiliation.

When the cultural vessel of our existence becomes pressurized by the heat of persecution or political oppression, faith will rise like the steam of boiling water seeking the quickest, most natural outlet. The question for us is what is most natural? Where does our faith rise? What is our outlet under pressure? Two recent responses to the crisis in Mosul, Iraq have me thinking about this question.

On the one hand, there has been a call from the Italian Bishops Conference to pray for the persecuted church.  And, on the other hand, there has been a sizable protest in Australia specifically on behalf of Christians in Iraq. Without being critical or cynical, we might clarify what is our faithful response to the crisis of Christian persecution in Iraq and around the world.

In Italy, the bishops have drafted a plea for the Church throughout Europe to pray on behalf of suffering saints around the world. The statement is powerful in its indictment of slothfulness concerning our suffering sisters and brothers:

‘If we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him ‘(Rom 6:8). These are words that we should also shake the conscience of our Europe, which has become distracted and indifferent, blind and dumb to the persecution which today has claimed hundreds of thousands of Christian victims”.

While the document rightly focuses attention on Christians in Iraq and Nigeria—two of the absolute worst places for Christians right now—it perhaps wrongly appeals for Christian action on the basis of human rights, history, and culture.  From the Italian bishops,

Faced with such an attack on the foundations of civilization, human dignity and human rights, “we cannot remain silent. The West cannot continue to look the other way, under the illusion of being able to ignore a humanitarian tragedy that destroys the values ​​that have shaped it…

This statement is not at all false. In fact, Christians must engage culture and improve (like salt and light) the civilization in which it exists. Yet, Christians must own as first priority the fame of Christ and the spread of His kingdom. Our appeals, then, should first be for Christ’s reputation instead of western values. While we can and should join as cobelligerents with the Italian bishops advocating for aid on the basis of a “humanitarian tragedy,” we must pray for Christ to be exalted through the witness of His faithful saints. We must pray that our suffering sisters and brothers would hold fast to that which has been given to them because Christ is coming quickly and bringing his reward to those whose garments are not stained with the sin of the surrounding society.

While Christians should advocate politically for religious freedom for all, we should also remind each other to recognize the difference between Christian persecution Mosul Iraqreligious freedom and persecution. The Constitution speaks of religious freedom; the New Testament speaks of persecution. One is a human right, the other a divine blessing.

As Christians continue to feel the pressure of persecution in Nigeria and Iraq, the steam of faith should rise up through the prayers of believers to Christ in heaven.  Our hope is anchored there, in Him—not in America’s chariots or the U.N.’s horses—not in Europe’s civilized past nor in the present “Universal Declaration of Human Rights.” We must keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who lives to make intercession for us.

(To be continued…)

3 Ways to Stand for Religious Liberty without Falling for a Political Agenda 

The Difference Between Religious Freedom and Persecution

Why Christians Must Fight for Religious Liberty

Timeline of How Christians Were Eliminated in Mosul, Iraq


I don’t remember what I was doing on June 10th.  It was a regular work week for me. Since then, I have done some planning for the Fall 2014 semester,Christian persecution Mosul Iraq and I have made a couple of trips to the airport so my kids could travel to see family. All in all, nothing much has changed for me and my family since June 10th.  But we don’t live in Mosul, Iraq.

Below, I have copied a letter from the Jubilee Campaign, along with a sobering timeline produced by the Assyrian International News Agency.  This timeline surveys the diabolical work of ISIS since June 10th.  In six weeks, the tangible signs of Christian presence have been eliminated: Church buildings, homes, actual Christians, and even a Christian cemetery—all gone.

(From Jubilee Campaign)

Courage is needed now to stop the genocide of Christians in Iraq.  Congressman Frank Wolf gave a floor speech declaring the expunging of Christians from Iraq as Genocide.  Please listen to him.  You can find his speech here.  Meanwhile, the Assyrian International News Agency reports that All 45 Christian Institutions in Mosul Destroyed or Occupied By ISIS.

TIMELINE OF ISIS’ ATTEMPT TO ELIMINATE CHRISTIANS FROM MOSUL

(From Assyrian International News Agency)

Timeline of ISIS in Mosul

Posted 2014-07-29 15:57 GMT

The Arabic letter “n” (inside red circle), signifying “Nasarah” (Christian), on a Christian home in Mosul.(AINA) — The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) captured the city of Mosul, Iraq on June 10. Almost immediately thereafter it began to drive Assyrians out of Mosul and destroy Christian and non-Sunni institutions. Here is the status as of July 29:

  • There are no Assyrians/Christians remaining in Mosul, all have fled to the north, to Alqosh, Dohuk and other Assyrian villages.
  • All Christian institutions in Mosul (churches, monasteries and cemeteries), numbering 45, have been destroyed, occupied, converted to mosques, converted to ISIS headquarters or shuttered (story).
  • All non-Sunni Muslim groups in Mosul — Shabaks, Yazidis and Turkmen — have been targeted by ISIS. Most have fled.
  • Water and electricity have been cut off by ISIS. The water shortage in the areas surrounding Mosul is now a full-blown crisis. Residents have been forced to dig wells for drinking water. Water tankers are providing some relief.
  • Mosul is now governed under Sharia law.
  • 50,000 Assyrian residents of Baghdede (Qaraqosh) fled from fighting between ISIS and Kurds. Nearly 80% have returned.

The following is a summary of the events that have unfolded in Mosul.

  • June 10: ISIS captures Mosul, occupies the Assyrian village of Qaraqosh, enters the St. Behnam Monastery, bombs an Armenian church (story).
  • June 12: ISIS issues Islamic rules for Mosul (story).
  • June 14: Assyrian, Yezidi and Shabak Villages come under Kurdish Control (story).
  • June 15: Kurds attempt to remove an Assyrian council leader in Alqosh and replace him with a Kurd (story).
  • June 18: ISIS Cuts Off Water, Electricity, Destroys Churches (story).
  • June 19: ISIS destroys statue of the famous Arab poet Abu Tammam (story).
  • June 21: ISIS begins imposing a poll tax (jizya) on Assyrians in Mosul (story), orders unmarried women to ‘Jihad by sex’ (story), destroys the statue of the Virgin Mary at the Immaculate Church of the Highest in the neighborhood of AlShafa in Mosul, as well as the statue of Mullah Osman Al-Musali. Shiite Turkmen in the villages of AlKibba and Shraikhan flee after receiving threats from ISIS. ISIS arrests 25 village elders and young men who are Turkmen in the village of AlShamsiyat; their whereabouts is still unknown. (story) ISIS orders Christian, Yazidis and Shiite government employees not to report for work in Mosul (story).
  • June 23: ISIS Rape Christian Mother and Daughter, Kill 4 Christian Women for Not Wearing Veil (story).
  • June 25: ISIS limits water from the plants in Mosul to one hour per day. Residents in surrounding areas are forced to dig wells (story).
  • June 26: Kurds Clash With ISIS Near Assyrian Town East of Mosul, forcing nearly 50,000 Assyrians to flee (story).
  • ISIS begins confiscating the homes of Christians and non-Sunni Muslims. ISIS rounds up many of the security agency members of the police and army in Sabrine Mosque and asks them to declare “repentance” and surrender their weapons and other military equipment. After doing so, all of the prisoners are tried and sentenced according to Sharia law and executed. ISIS has prevented delivery of government food rations to Tel Kepe and other areas not under their control (story).
  • June 28: ISIS kidnaps two nuns and three Assyrian orphans. They are eventually released (story).
  • July 3: ISIS seizes the house of the Chaldean Patriarchate and the house of Dr. Tobia, a member of Hammurabi Human Rights Organization and an Advisor to the Governor of Nineveh on Minority Affairs and General Coordinator with International Organizations (story).
  • July 8: ISIS Removes Cross From Church in Mosul (story).
  • July 10: ISIS bars women from walking the streets unless accompanied by a male. Nearly all barber shops and womens’ salons are closed (story).
  • July 15: ISIS Stops Rations for Christians and Shiites in Mosul (story).
  • July 17: ISIS issues statement ordering Christians to convert or die (story).
  • July 18: ISIS in Mosul marks Christian homes with the Arabic letter “N” (for the word Nasrani, which means Christian) (story).
  • July 19: ISIS plunders Assyrians as they Flee Mosul; families march 42 miles (story).
  • July 22: ISIS and Kurds clash near Assyrian town, 2000 Assyrian families driven from Mosul (story).
  • July 25: ISIS destroys the tomb of the Prophet Jonah (story).

© 2014, Assyrian International News Agency. All Rights Reserved.

How to Pray for Christians in Iraq (4 Ways)


Thank you all so much for your willingness to stand with our brothers and sisters in Iraq. Many of you have been using the Arabic “N” symbol below on your Facebook or Twitter profile to show your concern for Christians being targeted for extortion and/or extinction by soldiers of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).  God bless you for identifying with our brothers and sisters under attack.

Christian persecution mosul IraqOthers are understandably cynical about simply changing a profile pic as a reminder to pray. You think it’s too small of a gesture—that we must do more. And of course you are right! We all share some of that same attitude, I think.  Our American “can-do” mentality begs for a place to direct our anguish. We want to “do” something about the situation.  I spoke with a zealous young man today who graciously—yet excitedly—challenged me to “do something.” “We have to do something. Tell me what to do!” He cried.

My first response was to embrace his angst wholeheartedly. We really must do something. Our Christian brothers and sisters have been marked for death.  Their wages have been stolen.  Their homes and their homeland is now instantly closed to them. If they stay, they will be killed. If they leave, they will lose everything they once relied upon—houses, cars, money, jobs, friends. The situation is brutal.  Surely we can do more than pray!

And yet, upon further reflection, I reminded my young friend that prayer is no small thing. We ought not too quickly dismiss its potential for saving our fellow saints.  As James reminds us, “The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much” (James 5:16).  James uses the example of Elijah whose prayers both caused and cured a drought in Israel which lasted 3 ½ years.  Imagine—a man with a nature like ours altering meteorological phenomena for more than 1,000 days in a row!  (Talk about man-made global warming!) James could have chosen many other examples such as the prayers by Israel which brought about her Exodus from Egypt and Egypt’s destruction:

Christianity Today Mosul Christian Persecution #WeAreN

Mosul Christian Home (source: Christianity Today)

During those many days the king of Egypt died, and the people of Israel groaned because of their slavery and cried out for help.  Their cry for rescue from slavery came up to God.  And God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob.  God saw the people of Israel—and God knew” Ex 2:23-25 (ESV).

God knew! Are we to wonder whether God—now that Jesus and the Holy Spirit have been more clearly revealed—is still near and dear to His people? May it never be! Jesus Himself swore that He would never leave nor forsake His people (Hbrws 13:5) and that He would be with them even to the end of the age (Matt 28:20).  And so the all-powerful, all-knowing God of infinite love remains faithfully concerned for His people and capable of accomplishing great things on their behalf. With that in mind, we can (and must?) pray in at least these four ways:

Fervently from the heart.  Our prayers must be urgent, zealous, fearful, yet fully-fired with faith. Think of it this way: What would you do if you came home from work this evening only to discover that a gang had captured your sister and informed her that she had 24 hours to pay a ransom or die?  Would that not be a fiery trial that would cause you to cry out to God on her behalf? Would you not shriek with horror and beg for mercy? Fiery trials no doubt beget fiery prayers. There is a sword at the throat of our family. Pray!

Second, Despairingly—from a position of weakness. This may sound odd, but I take my cue from the Apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians 1:8-11,

For 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.

Notice how Paul admitted being excessively burdened—beyond any human strength. Is that not the burden our brothers and sisters are under now in Iraq?  What earthly power is (a) willing to save them and (b) able to save them?  Some (like the U.S. Military) seem able but not willing.  Others perhaps are willing but not really able.  So, where are Christians to turn?  As we pray for our brothers and sisters, we should pray from the position of complete and utter despair of human deliverance.  In that position, Paul says, we find our sure hope of trusting not in ourselves but in God who raises the dead!

Third, Victoriously—as though Christ has truly been raised from the dead. Who could ever have imagined that eternal life would spring from the humiliating execution of a stricken, smitten Jewish carpenter?  And yet, our Christ has been raised from the dead!  The Apostle Paul took courage and believed in his own deliverance from the mouth of death because of the Resurrection life of Christ.  Pray for our brothers and sisters to move from the Christian persecution Mosul Iraqdespair of their current situation to the victory of Christ’s Resurrection.  God is no less able to deliver today than he was when Paul was preaching the gospel in Asia (and the Middle East). So pray to God that he would raise the dead to new life in Mosul, Iraq. Pray for the current loss to be made gain.  After Stephen was martyred (Acts 7), the early church was scattered on account of the increasing persecution. Nevertheless, the gospel went forth with power everywhere the Christians fled.  Even so, God’s gospel will triumph somehow. Pray for His people in Iraq to trust God’s purposes by faith.

Fourth, Effectively—as though you expect your prayers to affect much. The prayers of saints saved Paul’s life. Why not now? Why not the lives of those in Mosul, Iraq?  If, as we see in 2 Cor 1:11, the churches were able to secure Paul’s release from certain death, then why would not be possible today for our prayers to be the very means God uses to deliver Iraqi Christians from what appears a certain death? Is our God no longer able to deliver? Surely, God is no less powerful now than He was on the day He delivered Daniel or Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego!

My friend and I talked about how we would love to help others learn to pray for the persecuted church. We will continue thinking about our prayers for the persecuted, and we hope to be providing much more helps in the future, Lord willing. So, stay tuned…

Why that Odd Facebook Symbol Is So Important


Christian persecution Iraq Maybe you have seen this little wine-cup looking symbol on your friend’s Facebook page and wondered what it means.  It means Christians are being targeted for death in Mosul, Iraq.  I am so thankful that someone thought to create symbol sent through Social Media to call attention to the plight of Christians suffering genocide in Iraq.

The symbol apparently started circulating in Lebanon and has caught on around the world. The symbol is actually an Arabic “n,” which is what ISIS soldiers in Mosul have used to abbreviate Nazara, a term for Christians in the Middle East.  Basically, those whose homes are thus marked are subject to death, unless they (a) convert to Islam or (b) pay an oppressive tax to stay alive (all explained here).  Here is how one report details the horror:

On Monday, which was normally pay day for municipal workers in Mosul, state workers were ordered not to pay the Christian employees. ISIS also forbid food to be distributed to Christian or Shiite families.

One state employee told the Arabic news outlet Ankawa that he was “warned that if he gives rations to Christians and Shiites, he will be charged and prosecuted according to Sharia law.”

The pressure continued later in the week, when ISIS cut off electricity to homes owned by Christians. The following day ISIS soldiers Christian persecution Mosul Iraqreportedly painted “N” on the doors of Christians to signify that they are “Nazara,” the word for Christian. Shiite homes were painted with the letter “R” for “Rwafidh,” meaning rejectors or protestants.

As a result, nearly the entire population of Christians in Mosul have fled, leaders say.

While I feel for the Shiites, too, and hope that we will advocate for them as well as for the Christians who are suffering, I feel compelled to join the movement to put an arabic “n” on my Facebook profile for a little while. It will remind me to pray if nothing else. But it will also keep the symbol out there for the world to ask and answer gravely serious questions.

By the way, I changed the symbol to red because the doors in Mosul are reportedly marked with red (perhaps to symbolize blood, “death to this house”–kind of a morbid reversal of the Passover markings!)

Who Is Persecuting Palestinian Christians?


No one needs to ponder whether Christians in Palestinian territories are suffering terribly. They are. Who’s to blame?

Christian persecution middle eastThere are very strong voices in the media and in political circles who point out that Israel is the country doing all the killing. Sure, Hamas is firing hundreds of missiles into Israel, but they don’t end up killing anyone because of Israel’s advanced “Iron Dome” defense systems.  Meanwhile, Israel’s rockets do reach their targets, and, so, more than 100 Palestinians have been killed in recent fighting. Palestine has been an area of Christian influence for centuries. And Israel has been an unwelcome occupier of the land since 1948. Protected by her western allies, Israel is responsible for exerting its disproportionate force in such a way that Christians in Palestine are the ones who end up suffering.

Against this view, there are those who argue that Israel has done no wrong. They point out that Hamas—a known Islamic terrorist organization—has been in control of Palestine since 2007.  In the last decade more than 4,000 rockets have been fired into Israel from Gaza.  The rockets are fired by Hamas, Al Quds, and others, who launch the rockets from hospitals, elementary schools, and apartment buildings in order to prevent Israel from fighting back.  If Israel were to fight back, she would inevitably kill civilians, which would then create “martyrs” for media manipulation.  The entire affair is as cynical as it is sordid.

What if—instead of being sucked into the bi-polar, geo-political warfare being waged from both sides—what if we could hear directly from Palestinian Christians? Maybe we can. They have been speaking out for the past couple of years.  From a 2012 Gatestone Institute report,

In a rare public protest, leaders and members of the 2,000-strong Christian community in the Gaza Strip staged a sit-in strike in the Gaza Strip this week to condemn the abductions and forced conversions in particular, and persecution at the hands of radical Muslims in general.

Most of us are not experts on the political machinations of the Middle East. We rely on news reports, testimonies, and research we hope we can trust. And we must do our best to make sense of a situation that always seems to inflame passions more than light the way of truth. It isn’t easy. But here’s a thought.

Given the fact that these Christians are living in Hamas-controlled Palestinian territories, they would be applauded by their government and by the sentiments of the general population if they blamed Israel. Blaming Israel would be the most natural, most agreeable, and most simple statement for them to make.  But they have been doing the opposite. They have been protesting the treatment they are receiving at the hands of Hamas and their own leaders.  They have been saying that their people are being kidnapped and forced to convert to Islam. And they have said this publicly at their own risk:

The protest has further aggravated tensions between Muslims and Christians in the Gaza Strip, which has been under the control of Hamas since 2007.

Leaders and members of the Christian community now fear reprisal attacks by Muslim extremists. Some have appealed to the Vatican and Christian groups and churches in the US, Canada and Europe for help. 

It seems to me that it would take much more courage for them to speak against their own Muslim (Hamas/PA) leaders than it would for them to Israel Flag God Favor Israel Ethnic National Christspeak out against Israel. Thus, I tend to believe that Palestinian Christians are in fact being persecuted by and, consequently, have been suffering at the hands of Hamas and other Muslim radicals in Gaza.

I’m not saying that Israel is always right. I don’t believe that. I don’t even believe that the land and geopolitical entity we now call Israel is particularly favored by God (as I have explained here).  There is no doubt that Israel’s wartime mentality is creating a terrible hardship for many, even if Israel has taken the unprecedented step of announcing ahead of time where and when she will strike. (See here for particular stories with varying degrees of blame toward Israel).

What I am saying, however, is that Palestinian Christians have been persecuted by the Hamas-led Palestinian authority. And at least some Palestinian Christians have been trying to speak up about it.  They feel that the media are punching the mute button toward their voice-boxes because their complaints don’t fit the typical political script.

At the end of the matter, of course, it does not matter who is to blame as much as what will we do? Will we help them with our prayers (1 Cor 1:8-11)?  Above all, let us pray that Christ Himself would be their strength, their hope, and their refuge through this awful storm in which they seem to have lost all their earthly allies.

For Krauthammer’s take on current Israel-Palestine crisis:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/charles-krauthammer-moral-clarity-in-gaza/2014/07/17/0adabe0c-0de4-11e4-8c9a-923ecc0c7d23_story.html

 

 

 

Here’s a Great Test for True Religion


Our van was nothing fancy.  No one would have mistaken it for a limousine. It was plain, boxy, kind of like a Volkswagen cargo van in which someone bolted a couple of seats to the floor. Nothing about the van stood out in the bustling African streets of Addis Ababa. Like everyone else in town that day, we darted and beeped and chugged along through the crowded automotive corridor, windows down, taking our oxygen from air saturated with a mix of dust and exhaust fumes.

Ethiopia Widow True Religion Cochran blogAs inconspicuous as our vehicle was in the city traffic, our faces were not so unnoticed. Our skin was noticeably pale compared to the native melanin. Immediately upon entering the market area our van became a gathering spot for kids selling toothbrushes, kids shining shoes, and kids selling packs of chewing gum. But worse than the badgering of the ambitious children trying to make a living was the agonizing appearance of destitute women, widows we were told.

In Ethiopia (and in many other places in Africa), there is little provision for widows. In the market place, haggard ladies wearing mismatched patches of dirty material draped over their malnourished figures tap incessantly on the van windows before we’ve even parked. Through the obstacles of a language barrier, they somehow communicate very clearly that they are starving and want money for food. They know we have money because we are, after all, going shopping at the market.

How could we not help these women? They were widows. And what is pure and undefiled religion if it isn’t helping widows in need?

James 1:27 says, “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world” (ESV).

In Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, we had the opportunity to visit widows in their affliction with help that was sorely needed.

In Nigeria, an African nation just three countries to the left (west) of Ethiopia, widows also cry out in the name of pure and undefiled religion. But in Nigeria the pure religion being sought lately is not the care of widows and orphans. Instead, the pursuit for pure religion has become the occasion for turning these women into widows.

The pure religion being sought in Nigeria is not that which is mentioned in the New Testament book of James; rather, it is the pure religion of Islam—according to the terrorist group Boko Haram.  And the widows are crying out not simply because their husbands are dead, but because their husbands were murdered in Boko Haram’s effort to purify Islam by ridding the country of its Christians.

According to this report, more than 2,000 women have unexpectedly become widows as the result of their husbands being murdered by Boko Haram’s quest for Islamic purity in Nigeria.  These women are destitute.  They have children to feed but no means of providing them the basics of food and shelter.

Here–in this Nigerian nightmare–we have a true test of pure religion. On the one hand, Boko Haram in the name of Islam believes that Christian men should be killed, leaving in the flow of bloodshed a wake of widows and orphans–hoping eventually for a purely Islamic Nigeria. On the other hand, Christians have a clear statement from James 1:27 that pure and undefiled religion does not result from killing opposing ideologies. Instead, pure and undefiled religion is on display when we help these widows and orphans pick up the pieces of their broken lives—somehow helping them reassemble the shattered mess of their lost hopes, dreams, comforts, and expectations.

In the case of Nigeria in particular, Christians have the duty to act. It’s easy to see a widow’s need when we are forced to look into her hungry eyes. It’s harderPure Religion James 1 Widow Orphan Cochran blog when the widow lives an ocean away.  And yet, our Christian sisters in Nigeria represent the actual intent of James’s admonition.  In the New Testament, the first responsibility for widow and orphan care exists within one’s own family (1 Tim 5:4, 8).  When the family cannot provide, the church must—starting with widows and orphans within the body of Christ.  For James, the pure and undefiled religion of caring for widows and orphans would begin with the church taking care of Christian widows and orphans (for more, see here or here).  James has been addressing his readers as “brothers” throughout the letter, signaling that this is from a Christian brother to other Christians.

Furthermore, James spells out that his talking of the poor means primarily poor brothers and sisters in the faith (2:15).  He is constantly speaking throughout the letter to brothers and sisters about righteousness and faithful works.  Like any believer in the first century, James thought in terms of a covenant community. The church was like family, and who could allow orphans and widows in his own family to starve? No one could if they understood God’s nature. Just listen to Exodus 22:22ff.,

“You shall not mistreat any widow or fatherless child. If you do mistreat them, and they cry out to me, I will surely hear their cry, and my wrath will burn, and I will kill you with the sword, and your wives shall become widows and your children fatherless.”

How awfully dreadful is the state of those who oppress widows and orphans! I have no doubt that those who murder Christian men in their zeal for a purified religion are under the weight of the wrath of God almighty for causing children to be fatherless and wives to be destitute.

But what about us? Do we not have an opportunity—even an obligation—in the face of this wrongful attempt to purify religion by killing Christians to actually demonstrate the pure and undefiled religion God requires? It’s time for us to come to the aid of Nigerian widows in distress. How pure is our religion? The African widows know.

 

Christians Stop Calling Yourselves Sinners


Billy Joel famously confessed in song,

“I’d rather laugh with the sinners than cry with the saints

The sinners are much more fun—only the good die young!”

Overlooking his obvious false dichotomy between saints and fun and his full-throttled embrace of sin, we can give Joel credit for seeing something that many sinners and saints equally miss: Saints and sinners are two distinct groups of people. In this distinction, Billy Joel is being quite biblical.

These two categories, in fact, are biblical categories by which all of humanity can be divided.  The Bible makes this distinction in various ways: darkness/light; believers/unbelievers; children of God/children of the devil; and saints/sinners.  The New Testament does not call Christians sinners.

Did you hear that?  Christians are not addressed as sinners by the writers of the New Testament.  Christians are called saints. See Paul’s address to the Corinthians for a clear and very common example:

To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours…

If Christians are saints, and not sinners, then why do Christians refer to themselves so often as sinners and almost never as saints?  I came up with four possible explanations. You may think of more (or better) explanations. Here are my four thoughts:

First, we Protestants have a lingering discomfort with the catholic traditions (Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodox) because of their veneration of the saints. Variously, these traditions pray to the saints, hold feast days in their names, and revere certain saints above others. Indeed, these catholic traditions do not use the word saint to refer to all Christians set apart by the gospel. Rather, they use the term to refer to super holy Christians (or something like that).  So, the catholic traditions employ the term in a way we don’t like. We, in turn, choose not to use the term much at all.

Second, we are simply too aware of our own sins, individually and collectively, to think of ourselves as anything but sinners.  We know we have sinned terribly against the Lord.  We know that we still fall short of His glory. Thus, we think of ourselves as sinners.  We call ourselves sinners because we know that is what we have always been.

And all of this is true of course. We were born sinners.  We still sin.  Thus, in a very real sense, we are still sinners.  We feel the tension Martin Luther expressed so well: Simul iustus et peccator [at the same time, we are righteous and sinners]. Our problem is that the apostles and writers of the New Testament refer to Christians as saints, not sinners. Our experience makes us feel like sinners. (So, Paul would call himself the chief of sinners, yet he referred to believers in the churches as saints).  There is serious tension.

Third, let’s be honest—we are not comfortable being called saints. Going by the name sinner is easy. It sounds humble—“I’m just a poor sinner.”  It relieves our responsibility (and even guilt?) somewhat because we can identify with every other Christian who knows he, too, is just a poor sinner.  We commiserate.

Such thinking might also build a certain level of defeatism into our spiritual psyche.  When it comes to exercising spiritual discipline in the morning, it’s easier to slide into sinner mode than saint mode.  When it comes to fighting temptation toward lust, laziness, or lack of evangelistic zeal, we have an easier time consoling ourselves of our failures when we think of ourselves as failures—as sinners.

But the New Testament thinks of us differently. Peter, for instance, reminds his readers,

“You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9).

Wow, that’s a high calling!  Peter and Paul tell us we are saints, holy, royal, and chosen. They do not say we are sinners, partly because (as a biblical category) sinners are condemned (see Paul in Romans 3:7, Peter in 1 Peter 4:18).  Mostly, they use saint as a reminder of our high calling in Christ.

Fourth, we might be confused about the term saint. What does it even mean?

Basically, a saint (‘agion) is a person who is sacred, holy, or “set apart.”  It does not mean super moral or super righteous Christians.  All Christians are called by God, set apart from the world.  We are no longer in the darkness, but we have been transferred into the light, into the kingdom of God’s beloved Son.  As such, we are saints by God’s calling.

The Apostle Paul explains this concept in Romans 6:12-14:

Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions.  Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness.  For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace (ESV).

Paul is borrowing temple language. In the temple, there were instruments set apart for use in temple service. What was the difference between a

Fan of saints not sinners

www.Wallpixr.com
(Yes, I’m a saints fan!)

firepan in the temple and a firepan used, perhaps, in a pagan temple?  Nothing, materially speaking.  But everything in a spiritual and theological sense!  One was pleasing to almighty God and used for worshiping him.  The other was abhorrent to God and used to commit idolatry against Him.

Paul reminds us that we are called (set apart, saints) to be useful in worshiping God, not to be useful in the idolatrous practices of our past (or those present in the world).  We should remember our calling to be set apart. We should remember, as Paul told the Philippians, to let our lives be lived in a manner worthy of the gospel to which we have been called.  Today, we are to be instruments useful to God, set apart for His good purposes. We are His saints today. Therefore, we must go and be useful for God.

The distinction between saint and sinner is not essentially moral. Neither the saint nor the sinner is perfectly holy in moral terms. Yet, one is characterized by his sinful desires; the other is characterized by his holy desires.  One is characterized by idolatrous and fleshly practices; the other is characterized by godliness and usefulness to Christ and the gospel.

Billy Joel, it seems, got two things right. There are sinners, and there are saints. Which one are you today?

Why Hobby Lobby Decision Matters for All American


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 Obamacare. The second story is more subtle, under the radar, but perhaps more damaging in its scope. It is the story of code enforcement. Let me explain these in order.

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare) was passed in June 2010. Certain provisions did

Obama Signing Healthcare Law Obamacare into effect

not take effect immediately. One of those delayed provisions was the Health and Human Services mandate for contraceptive coverage. Now that this mandate is in effect, businesses and other entities nationwide are suing the federal government to demand an exemption on the basis of conscience.

The latest business to join in the lawsuits is Hobby Lobby. They are the first evangelical Christian business to join the fray, but hopefully they will not be the last. In all, there are27 different lawsuits in the courts on this issue.  The objection is to the mandate’s insistence that all companies (and Christian schools) provide insurance coverage (without co-pay) for abortifacient drugs like the morning after pill or the week after pill.

The Obama administration is arguing two basic points germane to religious liberty. First, they argue that Christians must abandon their religious liberty when they choose to enter the commercial marketplace. This argument is based on their second argument, which is that religious liberty extends only to official houses of worship, not to individuals in their diurnal affairs. In other words, religious liberty (according to the Obama administration) means an American can go to a facility on Sunday and do his worship thing there without government interference (except for theaforementioned tax code restrictions), but he mustn’t think his liberty extends beyond the building.

The Obama administration clearly does not believe in religious liberty at all.  Instead, they believe in restricting religious liberty to “houses of worship” only.  Arguing for this view of religious liberty would be like arguing that a prisoner is actually free because he can do whatever he wants (inside his cell).  This is a radical departure from American history and reflects more of a communist view of religious freedom than an American one.

Communist Chinese flagIn China, for example, Christians are “free” to join the public, Three-Self Patriotic Church and worship there—in that “house of worship.”  They are not free to gather in homes or worship elsewhere. They certainly are not free to carry their Christianity into the workplace or the university. The defense of the Health and Human Services mandate of Obamacare rests upon such a demolition of religious liberty.

In addition to the Obamacare drama unfolding, there is a second stream of American stories all pointing to the same enslaving end. There is a rash of code enforcers around the nation taking aim at house church gatherings. We have seen instances of this in Illinois, California, Arizona, and now it has come to Florida as well.

Brad Dacus, president of the Pacific Justice Institute, is representing the Florida couple who is being threatened with a $250/day fine for having a small group (6-10) in the home for a Bible study.

Dacus says“They are having a specific problem with this family solely because they are having family and friends over to read the bible and pray.  That may be fine in some tyrannical parts of the world. That is not okay in the United States of America.”

The idea behind the code enforcers is the same as the idea promoted by President Obama: Keep your Christian God in a box. Go to your church building and do the Christian thing, but don’t bring the subject up at your work or your home. This is a Communist view of freedom, which, of course, means this is no freedom at all.

Code by code, insurance plan by insurance plan, America is shutting out its Christian past and killing the concept of liberty and justice for all.

Imagine Living as a Christian in Nigeria


Just this past weekend, my family and I hosted a World Cup party. About 25 people crowded into my living room to enjoy the epic battle in which the U.S. Men’s National team fought against the highly-touted, Ronaldo-led squad from Portugal.

Religious Freedom down Hostility Up

Freedom Down, Hostility Up

Yes, the last-second cross from Ronaldo to the head of Varela sent shockwaves down all 25 spines in the room, causing us—at least momentarily—to lose both our will and our ability to speak.  But, all in all, we enjoyed the football, the food, the fellowship, and the fun of the World Cup event. Many people around the U.S. enjoyed similar parties in similar settings.

But World Cup parties played out differently in Nigeria. Nigerians—including Nigerian Christians—also had World Cup viewing parties. Sadly, in the Mubi area of Adamawa state, Muslim extremists bombed a party of football watchers gathered (just as we were) to enjoy this global spectacle that, by design, hopes to bring the world together.

According to this Reuters report, the attack left 14 people dead and 12 injured, some of those are critically wounded.  Most people suspect Boko Haram, a terrorist group working to rid Nigeria of all but the purist form of Islam. In April of this year, this terrorist group kidnapped 200 schoolgirls possibly to keep as brides for Muslim men. The girls are still being held. And, since the kidnapping, Boko Haram has killed more than 500 innocent civilians in settings similar to World Cup watching parties. The majority of those being targeted by Boko Haram are Christians.

We have taken much for granted in the U.S.  Even while our freedoms are shrinking daily, we still have not come to a place where bombs are expected at “futbol” parties. We can be thankful for that, of course, but we also can be more sober about the world in which we live.

Islam is a force of intolerance with no equal right now. A couple of Islam scholars I have read have argued that groups like Boko Haram spring up in countries where Islam is almost a majority. Their hope is that through violence and intimidation and an appeal to Islamic heritage they can tip the Lady Justice Judge othersscales nationwide toward Islam and Sharia law.

I’m certainly no expert on these matters, but I will say that Nigeria fits that description. Nationwide, they are 50% Muslim and 50% Christian or traditional African religion.  The area targeted in this recent attack is a Fulani area (I think). That would make sense because Boko Haram has been slaughtering Christians and any who don’t appear Muslim enough. The Fulani people, I believe, are mostly Muslim, but they hold to a tradition all their own.

Regardless of the particulars at play in Nigeria, the case is certain that it is not safe to be a Christian there, especially in the northern parts of the country like Adamawa state (where this attack occurred).  Our brothers and sisters in Christ in Nigeria need our continued prayer and support. Our concern for humankind and for individual liberty calls us to care for the fate of the Fulani people in Nigeria, too.

To contemplate the reality that while we were joyfully watching a game for its entertainment value other people were being mercilessly slaughtered in the name of religious conformity is, at the very least, sobering. It is an almost unbearable reality.  We can’t just ignore it for that would make us cold, indifferent, and almost culpable.  We also can’t be debilitated by it. We must continue both to express our own freedom and work so others can enjoy theirs. Both in Nigeria and in California, people should be free to watch the World Cup together without fearing an Islamic invasion.

More thoughts about religious liberty

 

The Apostle Paul’s Seemingly Impossible Command


The Apostle Paul gives the following impossible command to the Philippian church:

Bible Complaining Leadership Elders Submit Obedience14 Do everything without complaining or arguing, 15 so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe

First, he does NOT say, do your best to avoid arguments. He doesn’t say try not to complain. He does not say the overall attitude should be compliance, not complaining. No, He says, do everything without complaining or arguing. Everything. No complaints.

Second, the main concern in this command is not your psychological well-being or your need to be protected from spiritually abusive pastors. The issue is squarely one between God and His people. If you belong to God, then do what you are told to do. [note the . ] And when you are told what to do—and thus are doing what you have been told to do—don’t allow your heart to grumble or your mouth to complain. When you are thus characterized by glad obedience, you are acting as blameless and pure children of God.

Third, the sum of such a compliant, obedient heart is a powerful witness to a perverted world. The most natural activity in the world is refusing any authority outside of yourself. All of us are by nature like Gollum in the Lord of the Rings, who finds even the smallest thread of binding to be positively unbearable.

This wildness of heart and untamable demand for fleshly autonomy is evident even among Christians who have godly leaders lovingly instructing them.  It has a very long history among God’s people. It was prevalent in the Israelites in the wilderness. (Numbers 14:2-3, NASB),

2 All the sons of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron; and the whole congregation said to them, “Would that we had died in the land of Egypt! Or would that we had died in this wilderness! 3 Why is the Lord bringing us into this land, to fall by the sword? Our wives and our little ones will become plunder; would it not be better for us to return to Egypt?”

In the midst of their suffering, they cried, “Why God!” Then they refused to trust the leaders God had given them, demanding instead to return to the past, which wasn’t perfect, mind you, but it was at least familiar. It was manageable. They could navigate the past. They knew they could get along comfortably there, but they had no guarantee of comfort going forward into a future which demanded faith in the place of sight. The past was easier to accommodate. It was doable. So, they grumbled at the man God provided to lead them into a promised future.

Such grumbling and complaining is both natural and wicked. It is severely and consistently condemned throughout Scripture. Jude marvels that the archangel Michael would not dare to condemn the Devil; instead, he said, “The Lord rebuke you!” (See Jude 9.) Yet, mere humans crept into the church and did not hesitate to “revile the things which they do not understand; and the things which they know by instinct, like unreasoning animals….”  “Woe to them!” says Jude, “they have rushed headlong into the error of Balaam, and perished in the rebellion of Korah” (Jude 11).

Paul, likewise, has severe words for those who cannot obey without complaining. In a letter to the church at Corinth (1 Cor 10), Paul speaks of the rebellion of Israel in the wilderness. He has a particular interest in protecting the church from grumbling, so he warns them not to “try the Lord, as some of them did, and were destroyed by the serpents.  Nor grumble, as some of them did, and were destroyed by the destroyer.”  You see the pattern? Grumbling and complaining get you killed. It’s not safe. Not good.

Paul goes on to tell the Corinthians that the stories of Israel’s grumbling in the wilderness were written down so that later generations of God’s people might be instructed—that is, might learn from them how to follow godly leaders.

“Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed that he does not fall” (1 Cor 10:12).

Like it or not, we must be humble and obedient people, holding firmly to Christ, keeping His word, and serving His Bride as He completes His redemptive work in this world. We must not be like the rest of the world, acting as unreasoning animals, demanding our own rights, pursuing our own fleshly preferences. We must be humble, obedient, and faithful sheep listening for and responding to the voice of the Good Shepherd Himself.

What does that mean in practical terms? Consider these 4 applications:

Submit to your elders:
 Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you. (Hebrews 13:17)

Do not entertain charges against your elders:
19 Do not receive an accusation against an elder except on the basis of two or three witnesses. (1 Tim 5:19)

If you disagree—or think you might disagree—go before the Lord in prayer and dive into the Word in study before ever disparaging the work of your church or its leaders.

Finally, when you feel you must question your pastor or elders, do so with fear and with faith. The issue must not be viewed as your preferences versus the pastor’s. The only issue is the preference of the Good Shepherd Himself. What does Christ command? What does His word teach on the subject? Bring your concern to the man with your Bible in your hand and the hope of reconciliation in your heart.  Then, and only then, can you claim to be doing what is right before God.

This is a grievous subject. More than a few churches have divided and split as a result of grumbling and complaining. Those who grumble and find fault are often followers of their own lusts. They speak arrogantly, flattering some people for the sake of gaining advantage over others (Jude 16). They cause deep divisions in the otherwise unified body of Christ. And this is why the Bible says, “Woe to them!”

This expectation of unity and peace among believers is why Peter asks, “What kind of people ought you to be?” Then answers, “Therefore, beloved, since you look for these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, spotless and blameless” (2 Peter 3:14).  It’s also why Paul lovingly tells the Philippians to do everything without complaining or arguing. Paul does not want any in the church to fall into the condemnation and woe of fleshly grumblers.

We need to think more about what this means in the church. So, what are some questions for a further post?

 

Why God Is Not Impressed with Our Anger

Moses, God’s Leader, Had Trouble With Trust, Too

God Restrains His Wrath, And We Can Restrain Ours