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.

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).

 

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…

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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/

Biblical Morality–A Crime Against Humanity?


UPDATE: The Scott Lively case concerning a lawsuit from an international law perspective is still moving forward, despite motions to dismiss and motions to stay while court decisions are reviewed. Scott Lively is being sued under international law for “severe deprivation of fundamental rights contrary to international law ” on account of his belief that homosexuality is sin.

Gregory C. Cochran

 

Current events did not take long to prove Dr. Mohler correct in his assertion yesterday that gay rights has become the centerpiece of a new moral “McCarthyism.” Dr. Mohler’s commentary concerning “The Giglio Imbroglio” has proved prescient. Today, news has come out that an American pastor is being sued for “crimes against humanity” because of his views on homosexuality.

 

Scott Lively, a pastor and activist who believes that homosexuality is a sinful undermining of traditional marriage and family norms, has been sued by SMUG (Sexual Minorities of Uganda–a political action group funded by George Soros).  The lawsuit has been filed in federal district court and appeals to international law, citing a trip that Lively took to Uganda to speak out against the homosexual lifestyle.

 

The case seems important to me for two different reasons. On the one hand, it is troubling that an American citizen…

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Christian Rappers Neither Disobedient nor Cowards


Last week, the National Center for Family-Integrated Churches (NCFIC) unleashed a maelstrom of confusion and discontent among Christians over the place of Rap in Christian worship. As is always the case in situations like this, there is inevitably more heat than light. Emotions are running high, and unfortunate (and unnecessary) divisions are now forming.

Form Worship RapAfter watching the video of the NCFIC conference, I was, frankly, embarrassed—embarrassed for the panelists and also embarrassed by the panelists. It was not their finest hour. Nevertheless, my aim here is neither to “pile on” criticism nor offer correction. Others have done that much better than I ever could (see Ligon Duncan’s comments here).

My aim is redemption and clarity, a word of edification for rappers and non-rappers alike. However clumsily and (perhaps even sinfully) the comments were made by the NCFIC panelists—one panelist (Geoff Botkin) called Christian Rappers disobedient cowards (and has since had to apologize)—still, there may be a helpful lesson embedded in the NCFIC critique. The lesson I have in mind is the distinction between form and content in worship.

Music itself is devoid of content. Music is, by definition, form. Content must be added to musical forms if we are to have songs which serve to praise God. Those who advocate for a kind of 4/4 Classical form of music—as though God’s metronome cannot accommodate syncopation—miss this basic point that music itself is all form. Why would it be that the music of Beethoven and Bach is allowed in the worship service while that of BB King and Flame is not?

Typically, one might argue that Beethoven is more refined than Flame, but are we sure that is God’s measure? Neither form existed in the wilderness wonderings of ancient Israel. Neither form existed in the early church of the New Testament. Neither form existed in the Protestant Reformation. Both forms have evolved post-Reformation. So, neither is prescribed for Christian worship.  Both are forms of music which developed culturally.  Lest we become like Islam—sanctifying a particular cultural norm as divine—we ought to re-think offering canonical status to any cultural norms.

Musical forms are always contextual, largely dependent upon the instruments available in a given region. Why sanctify white, American pianos, organs, and guitars? On what basis? Is Beethoven really more holy than BB King? Is Mozart more pristine than Flame? A music leader once shared with me a telling story on this matter. His church was quite traditional—a high culture, hymn singing church. They began the service one morning with a traditional hymn built on the platform of a classical piece of music by Beethoven. Part of the way into this classical hymn, a young man—a visitor that day—went screaming from the service, running down the aisle and out the front doors.

Church members followed up with the man to determine what had happened. He told them that he had been a member of a cult group and was recently saved, miraculously redeemed by the washing of water with the word. He then explained that he had been brainwashed by the cult group. The cult used Beethoven’s music to alter the minds of unsuspecting youth. When this man heard Beethoven’s music being played at church, he freaked—thinking the church was just another brain-washing cult!

The point is that Classical music is no more holy than hip-hop. Both are contextualized vehicles upon which the content of Christian lyrics is free to ride. The aim of Christian musicians should be to utilize any and every form of music to the glory of God. Some songs need to be driving and forceful, while others should be irenic and serene. Different instruments accomplish different things and ought to be employed in diverse ways to glorify God. The content of the Christian message ought to determine the form of music used. If the content of the message is from Hebrews 10:24-25, for example—a message to stir one another up to love and good works—then the form of the music ought to be “stirring,” such as the form used by the group Downhere in their song, “Stir.”

Pianos, keyboards, organs, banjos, and didgeridoos are all—equally—instruments which ought to be used instrumentally as vehicles to carry the content of Christian proclamation and praise. Let us not sanctify any instrument or form over another—such sanctifying leads only to unfounded self-righteousness. And it is ugly. If we were to consider any instruments holy in themselves, then, surely, it would be those instruments found in the Scriptures. Surprisingly, no one is arguing for the holiness of a trumpet or pipes or cymbals, yet these are the instruments actually found in Scripture, along with harps and lyres.

We will build up our people best if we keep them focused on the content of our message rather than on the form of our music. Use whatever gets the point across to the audience assembled. Forget attempting to sanctify the style of your musical preference.

RT @heritage: Margaret Thatcher’s Life


RT @heritage: Margaret Thatcher’s Life in Pictures: http://t.co/rcuSF4VTEn

All Truth Is Relative?


From http://hypernews.ngdc.noaa.gov

All Truth Is Relative

It sounds like a thoroughly contemporary quote by a postmodern philosopher with his feet planted firmly in mid-air. Though this idea of relativism is currently in vogue, it is not a particularly novel way of thinking. In fact, it is a very old, crude, and predictable way for humans to live.

The idea of all truth being relative is at least as old as Protagoras, the man first credited with making the claim. The claim itself is self-defeating. If all truth is relative (and thus subject to being accepted or rejected by any individual at any given time), then even the claim that all truth is relative must be a relative claim. In other words, not even the proposition “All truth is relative” endures over time because that truth would have to be a relative truth.

Protagoras lived between 490-420 BC. He taught an early form of phenomenalism, in which “man is the measure of all things.” Basically, Protagoras believed that each person had to seek to answer his own questions about truth and, although some would arrive at better conclusions than others, still, at the end of it all no one’s decision would prove to be ultimately true or false. Decisions could only prove to be true for that individual at that time. Each person does what he thinks best in the moment of action.

As a result of Protagoras’s philosophy, the Sophists (who followed his thinking) came to a way of living that was little different from that of an animal. Indeed, after the Sophists, the Cynics came along and literally were referred to as dogs. Atisthenes was the “Downright Dog” leader and Diogenes was his “Royal Dog” associate.  Relativism led human beings to become animals of instinct and impulse. Each individual sniffing his way along life’s trail with no ultimate hope for anything true or anything eternal was the end result of ancient relativism. Basically, the ideal life was one in which each person followed his own lusts until he died.

Whether old or new, it seems to me that relativism offers little more than a bleak outlook on life. It is more akin to animal life than it is to human flourishing. The ancients over time learned a better way and moved toward a virtuous life which at least had meaning to it. May the Lord bless us with clear and sober minds to learn better the truth, the life, and the way.

How Would You Answer These Ethics Questions?


English: A section of a page from the Wicked B...

English: A section of a page from the Wicked Bible of 1631. The image is not copyrighted due to the age of the work. The section highlights a contemporary typographical error insofar as it omits the word not from the commandment “Thou shalt not commit adultery”. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I have taken a day for study today. One of the things I have been able to finally accomplish is to get a list of paper topics out to my students in Christian Ethics.  I have pasted the paper topics below in the form of propositions, which I expect the students either to defend or rebut. I am posting these topics because I thought you might find them interesting. You may want to think through the topics as well and answer them for yourself. Feel free to share your response to one or all of the topics:

1.  Christians should be protesting against the oppressing sin of usury because it is more clearly condemned in the Bible than abortion. (See Daily Kos article)

 

2.  Matthew 19:1-11 stands in complete agreement with Luke 16:18.

And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.” (Matthew 19:9, NASB)

18 “Everyone who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery, and he who marries one who is divorced from a husband commits adultery.” (Luke 16:18, NASB)

 

3.  There is never a situation in which it is acceptable for a Christian to lie—a thorough consideration.

 

4.  A proper biblical understanding of theology leads to the conclusion that masturbation is a sin for the Christian.

 

5.  The most important reason Christians cannot be utilitarian or consequentialist in their actions is ______________________________________ (fill in the blank, then defend it).

 

6.  Any Christian in any country throughout the world who wishes to live a consistent, Christian life of faith will suffer persecution.

New Beginnings tomorrow @CedarGroveBapti


New Beginnings tomorrow @CedarGroveBaptist. We start our overview of God’s Word with Genesis.

New Beginnings tomorrow @CedarGroveBapti


New Beginnings tomorrow @CedarGroveBaptist. We start our overview of God’s Word with Genesis.

Was Connecticut Shooting God’s Judgment?


Thank you for the responses to the post, Did God Cause the Connecticut Shootings. The responses came mostly through Facebook and other media.  Some thought the article didn’t go far enough. Others thought it went too far. So, let’s consider the objections in these two directions.  First we will consider the objection which says my view did not go far enough.

Basically, my argument is that the immediate cause of the deaths is rightly placed upon Adam Lanza, who alone was God's Judgment School Shooting Newtown Conn Sandy Hookresponsible for killing more than two dozen people in Newtown, Connecticut.  He will be held accountable by God for his sinful, murderous actions. However, God was not absent from the horror. Ultimately, God—secretly and mysteriously—was (and is) causing it all to work together for a greater, eternal good.

Objection one says that this argument does not go far enough. Instead, the argument should state not only that God was present, but that He was also present specifically to enact His judgment.  In other words, God caused the event to happen to exact His judgment against America and, especially, America’s schools.

So, the question becomes, was this an action of God’s judgment on American schools for rejecting Him and removing prayer?  No, I don’t think it was.

Here’s why I say “no.” I have no hesitation stating that God exacts His perfect justice against sins.  God punishes the wicked.  He is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, but He will by no means leave the guilty unpunished (see Exodus 34:6-7).  Every evil action, thought, and deed will face the bar of perfect justice, and our God is a consuming fire! He will, in fact, cast souls into Hell (Luke 12:5), and He will ultimately usher in a new heaven and a new earth for all who believe. Thus, it is always a fitting word to say,

“See to it that you do not refuse Him who is speaking. For if those did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape who turn away from Him who warns from heaven” (Hebrews 12:25).

Nevertheless, God’s judgment is better directed than the bullets at Sandy Hook. God’s judgment is precise and exact—even down to the thoughts and intentions of the individual heart.  So, what evidence is there which suggests these particular kids were guilty of the particular sins God supposedly judged on this occasion? The kids weren’t responsible for prayer being removed from their schools.  They probably had no knowledge of any of the lawsuits which led to the excising of God from student classrooms. Yes, God judges—but not haphazardly!

Consider Christ’s teaching in this regard from Luke 13:1-5,

Now on the same occasion there were some present who reported to Him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. And Jesus said to them, “Do you suppose that these Galileans were greater sinners than all other Galileans because they suffered this fate? I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or do you suppose that those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them were worse culprits than all the men who live in Jerusalem? I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”

The Tower of Siloam

The Tower of Siloam (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Notice that there were people who wanted to ascribe a slaughter to the judgment of God.  Jesus quickly corrected those justice-mongers who hoped to tie the tragic events of his day directly to the hand of God.  No one knows for sure what event is being spoken of here in Luke 13, but the point is plainly stated. Jesus turns the situation into a rhetorical question of great significance: Do you really think these people died because of their particular sins? No, there was no way to tie their deaths to any immediate sin committed by them. Thus, the deaths could not be ascribed to the judgment of God in any particular sense.

The same is true for the tower of Siloam.  A dozen and a half victims unexpectedly perished in an instant, when the tower fell upon them. Was that the hand of God’s judgment against them? Jesus says, no. Whether slaughter (the Galilean example) or accident (the Tower of Siloam incident)—the lesson from mass tragedies is NOT to point the finger and say, “Those people must be great sinners, for God has judged them.” Rather, the point is for every survivor to point to himself and say, “God have mercy on ME, a sinner.”

Tragedies–whether tsunamis or school shootings–are reminders of the fixed reality of God’s ultimate judgment over humanity.  All are under the curse of sin and death. Thus, any could die at any given moment.  And we all need to seek the remedy God gives us in Christ.

Objection Two moves in the opposite direction and says, “God had nothing to do with Connecticut, and it is unhelpful, if not downright hateful, to suggest that he did.” The answer to this objection is next… stay tuned.


Here is a post from a fine young man who is fighting for joy in the face of death. I thank God for him and for the way the Lord is breaking his heart and healing it at the same time.

Brain Caffeine

This has been a rough year for me, and in the days leading up to Thanksgiving Day, I’ve been contemplating what exactly I am thankful for.  As some of you may know, my fiancé passed away February 5, and this whole year I’ve been struggling to find things for which I can be thankful.  But over

the course of this past week, and my Bible study yesterday morning, I believe I’ve found what I’m thankful for.

In Ephesians 1 verses 15 through 19, Paul goes through how he prays for the church at Ephesus.  I’m not sure why this text struck me in this way; I’ve read it so many times before.  But it did strike me differently. Here is the full text (HCSB):

This is why, since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints, I never stop giving thanks for…

View original post 376 more words

Is God Always on Israel’s Side? (Part 2)


Earlier, Acts 13:32-39 was quoted, but not in its entirety. When the complete quote is included, we see that the early church Dreidel God Israel Christ Kingdom landproclaimed more than the fact that Christ is the fulfillment of Israel, He is the realization of the Son of God. As such, Christ is also the fulfillment of the kingdom. So, Acts 13:34 offers this prophecy from God about Jesus: “I will give you the holy and sure blessings of David.”

Talk of David in the Bible is always significant because David represents the fulfillment of Old Testament Kingdom promises. David is the prototypical king of Israel. This prophecy fulfilled in Acts 13 is an acknowledgement that Jesus has come as the King of the Israel of God.  Thus, our contemporary over-emphasis on the national entity of Israel is a diminishing of the glory of the eternal kingdom which has already begun for God’s people in Jesus Christ.

The issue of emphasis in the New Testament is not national, nor ethnic, and it isn’t even about a parcel of land; the issue is Christ the king and His kingdom people who are “in him” by faith.  There is still a future fulfillment in Christ at the consummation of His kingdom, which brings about the new heavens, a new earth, and a new Jerusalem from above.  So, the Apostle Paul was able to speak of a new reality in Galatians 6:15-16,

“For neither is circumcision anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation. And those who will walk by this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God.”

Clearly, the Apostle Paul makes Christ’s faithful out to be the true Israel of God. The reason is that those born again are “in Christ.” Those in Christ are in the true Israel of God. They are the fulfillment of the kingdom promises of the Old and New Testament.  Thus, the Apostle Peter would say of us who are in Christ,

1 Peter 2:9, But you are a Chosen Race, a Royal Priesthood, A Holy Nation, A People for God’s own Possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; for you once were not a people, but now you are the people of God…

The people of God—God’s Holy nation—is not Israel, but us who belong to Christ. The kingdom belongs to Christ and to those to whom He gives it. Jesus died the “King of the Jews,” and when He rose again and ascended into heaven, he guaranteed a new future which inextricably sewed heaven and earth together into a new reality which He will complete on His return.

Star of David Israel Nation Christ KingdomNotice the significance of each point in 1 Peter 2:9. Christians now are the “chosen race,” first mentioned in Isaiah 43:20.  Christians are now the “royal priesthood and holy nation” of Exodus 19:6.  [Yes! Christians are the nation of God’s favor.] Christians are now the “people for God’s own possession,” mentioned first in Exodus 19:5. In short, Christians are the children of God, the chosen for His kingdom.  Thus, no one [including Jews living in the land of Israel]—no one can come to the Father except through His son, Jesus (John 14:6). Christians are those who have thus come to the Father.

The original covenant promise from God came to Abraham. It was through Abraham that Isaac (the child of promise) and Jacob (the father of the 12 tribes of Israel) came about. The faith of Abraham is completed in the coming of Jesus Christ. So, again, Paul the Jew would say, “Therefore, be sure that it is those who are of faith who are the sons of Abraham” (Galatians 3:7-8). “So, those who are of faith are blessed with Abraham, the believer.”

From the beginning, Abraham was to serve as a light to the nations, and, in Abraham, all the nations of the earth would be blessed. They were originally blessed through the light of Abraham’s offspring–Israel, which shone (in varying degrees of darkness) until the arrival of the true Israel of God: God’s only begotten Son, Jesus. Now that Christ has come, everything has changed into a glorious reality of his eternal kingdom.

If you belong to Christ, you are Abraham’s descendant, an heir according to the promise (Galatians 3:29).  If you are in Christ, “You have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem…” (Hebrews 12:22).  In short, all the promises of God (including those in the Old Testament) are “yes and amen” in Christ Jesus.

To Be Continued Again? What about the future of national Israel? Stay tuned.

(In the meantime, you may want to read, “Is the Holy Land Really Holy?”)

Is God Always on Israel’s Side?


English: English translation of hebrew version...

English translation of Hebrew. Map of the twelve tribes of Israel, before the move of Dan to the North (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I honestly dislike controversy. I try to avoid it. But the things which matter most to me are always on collision course with the things that others decide are too “controversial” to speak about in polite company.  Marriage, families, protecting babies, and the freedom of religion—all these are important realities which rile abortion supporters and those who wish to dismantle the traditional family.

Above all else, I care about Christ and sharing God’s love with others. So, I have to speak concerning the controversial subject of Israel (because it involves Christ). I read a popular Christian post which proclaimed that God is always on the side of Israel. I do not think that is true—at least not in the way the author meant it.  Before I explain further, I heartily agree that the nation of Israel needs our support, considering that it is freedom’s best ally in the Middle East, and many of her neighbors are busily working to see her annihilated.

That being said, the Bible nowhere offers warrant for saying the present nation of Israel is comprised of the people of God.  The land and the people filling it have no hope of being part of the kingdom of God without faith in Jesus Christ (John 14:6).  Like the novelist Anne Rice, I understand the presence of the Jews as an “immense  mystery” without a natural  solution.  It takes God to explain the existence of Jews in this world, and it may well be that at some point in the future there will be a great outpouring of faith towards Christ among the Jews (Romans 11:25-29).

Nevertheless, the present nation of Israel does not exist as a vessel of God’s special favor.  The reason is simply this: The concept of Israel is a personal concept in Scripture, not a national one. The present nation of Israel is a national entity, not a personal one.

In the Bible, Israel is a person. Originally, Israel is the name given to Jacob after he wrestled with the angel of God (Genesis 32:24ff).  Israel later became the collective name for the twelve tribes of Israel (which, of course, was a reference to the twelve sons of Jacob).  The original, biblical understanding of the name Israel was a reference to a person.  This person represented other people.

In a foreshadowing of the Christ who would later come to fulfill God’s purposes for His people, Exodus 4:22 says, “Thus says the Lord, Israel is My son, My firstborn.”  Again, in prophetic utterance, Hosea gets a word from God: “When Israel was a youth I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son” (Hosea 11:1). All the prophecies about God’s Son—Israel—have seen their fulfillment in Christ, who came not to abolish the law, but to complete the law and the prophets.  So, in Matthew 2, Jesus was taken as a child into Egypt so that Hosea 11:1 would be fulfilled—out of Egypt, God called His Son.

The concept of Israel and the person of God’s Son both find their fulfillment in Jesus Christ.  Acts 13:32-39 speaks of early Christians preaching Christ as the fulfillment of these prophetic words:

And we preach to you the good news of the promise made to the fathers, that God has fulfilled this promise to our children in that He raised up Jesus as it is written in the 2nd Psalm, ‘You are my son, Today I have begotten you.’ 

The Apostle Paul (in Romans 9:6-8) spent much time and energy pleading with the Jews (who occupied the land which today makes up Israel) so that they would stop taking comfort in their ethnicity.  He spoke plainly that their hope was not to be found in “Israel” but in Isaac—not in the flesh but in the promise of God.  In other words, Paul says, “not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel… this means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise….”

To Be Continued (Let your mind chew on these thoughts, while I get ready to post more tomorrow)

God and Money


English: Flag of Milwaukee, Wisconsin

English: Flag of Milwaukee, Wisconsin (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What happens when a theologian crosses paths with an economist? It sounds like a bad joke. But the question is pertinent, considering that a new book is on the horizon which combines clear theology with sound economic principles.

One of the benefits of attending ETS in Milwaukee was hearing Wayne Grudem defend this thesis: “God does not require or even authorize the state to redistribute wealth–except for a welfare safety net.”  Dr. Grudem offered the session as a preview to an upcoming book. He has already sent the manuscript to the publishers so watch for the book in 2013.

Grudem’s basic outline is so practical that it is difficult to see how anyone can miss the point, but, of course, our last election is Exhibit 1A in the evidence room against such practicality in economics. Grudem asserts first that the power of government is great and therefore exceptionally dangerous. The government bears the power of the sword and can coerce its will on its citizens.

Second, Grudem explains that the government is expected to fulfill several functions, but wealth distribution is not among them.  Punishing evil, promoting good order, and establishing justice (not fairness) is among the important tasks of government, while equalizing income and property have no place in government function.

Third, Grudem shows that the Bible expects private property ownership, not communal government property. Individuals are to own the land and thus possess the wealth of a nation. Governments must be held in check so that the “king” does not exact the wealth from his people.

Fourth, Grudem demonstrates how justice is concerned with a standard of righteousness–not with counting coins to make sure everyone has the same amount. The government should prevent crime and enforce contracts, but it should not take money from some to buy votes from others and thus to keep all in subjection.

Grudem’s work is timely (as always). The book should be a very helpful resource when it arrives. In the meantime, Grudem suggests a book by Jay Richards: Money, Greed, and God.

Stand Up for Muslim Lawyer


The Attitude to the "Other" and to P...

 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

Christians are not the only courageous people in the world. Here on my blog and at our ministry to the persecuted church (Project 13:3), we often highlight cases of Christian courage, telling the stories of those unwilling to yield their faith in Christ to the threats of police, parents, and employers. Such stories of conviction under fire are not uncommon anymore, given the increase in hostility against religion.

 

It’s easy for us to forget that all people of good courage and righteous convictions are subject to opposition. Such opposition is now a reality for Muhammad Dadkhah, a Muslim lawyer working for religious freedom in the Islamic Republic of Iran.  You may have heard of Dadkhah during the trial and consequent protest campaign of Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani. Dadkhah represented Pastor Youcef and has stood up for 20 Christians who have been sentenced to death in Iran.

 

In America, there’s a degree of nobility in those who seek to defend basic human rights. In Iran, there is an exponentially increased nobility in the gesture of a Muslim lawyer who represents persecuted Christian pastors. For my part, I say, “Thank you,” to Dadkhah for his efforts on behalf of persecuted Christians. May he be rewarded for his aid to Christ’s followers (Matthew 10:42).

 

According to ACLJ, Dadkhah was prosecuted and is now serving a 9 year prison sentence. The Iranian regime has claimed he is “aiding and abetting” in the alleged crimes of his clients by offering his services free of charge. Anyone and everyone who cares about courage or freedom should join in the calls made by the U.N. and demand Dadkhah’s release.

 

 

Dishonorable Killings Continue


Lahore City Centre

Lahore City Centre (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I just read this devastating account of a couple in Lahore, Pakistan, who killed their 16 year old daughter because she was talking to a young man. In many Shariah-compliant Muslim communities, parents are driven to kill their children (almost always their daughters) in order supposedly to preserve the honor of the Muslim family.

As I have written before, I cannot think of much that could be more dishonorable. Yet, this kind of killing is not uncommon. In Pakistan, for example, there have reportedly been at least 1,000 such killings this year. Astounding, isn’t it?

Religious Liberty Is Important for All Americans


For more than three years now, I have had an unsettling fear that religious liberty in America is on the wane. Turns out, I am not alone. A movement is afoot among state legislatures across the country.  According to Baptist Press, there is a plan in place to have caucuses for religious freedom in every state legislature by the end of 2013.

This movement is significant because every American—including the atheist and the agnostic—will be less free without religious liberty. A look at the history and function of Religious Freedom in Americareligious liberty will demonstrate what I mean.

Historically, it is not arbitrary that Religious Liberty is our first liberty.  The First Amendment to the Constitution (which includes the freedoms of religion, speech, assembly, and addressing grievances with our government) is anchored in the reality of religious liberty.  The freedom to speak and to call out injustice flows from the freedom to believe in reality beyond the governing authorities.  Religion is all about these greater realities.

Charles C. Haynes and the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development have chronicled 29 influences religion had upon the founding of our nation. Their point is that without affirming religion, one cannot understand American history. Ours is a history founded on religious freedom for the individual.  Benjamin Rush (one of our “Founding Fathers”) speaks thus of our history of religious liberty,

The only foundation for a republic is to be laid in religion. Without this there can be no virtue, and without virtue there can be no liberty, and liberty is the object and life of all republican governments. Benjamin Rush Essays, Literary, Moral and Philosophical, 1798.

As important as religious liberty is to our history, it is even more important to our functioning as Americans.  We have all likely heard of the “rugged individualism” which forged a nation from the frozen streams of northern winters to the barren plains and western deserts.  America has been a remarkable experience of entrepreneurs and innovation. From the telephone to the iPhone, America has always sought to excel—each generation outdoing the past in an ever-upward pursuit.  But such individual-inspired accomplishments are not possible without liberty. And liberty is not possible without religious liberty. Here are two reasons religious liberty benefits all Americans (not just Christians).

First, religious liberty empowers individuals.  It is born of the spirit of Luther—a spirit in which one man can stand against his government and against the world on the basis of truth as dictated by his own conscience. One man—through principled conviction (like Martin Luther King) or through the flourish of individual creativity (like Alexander Graham Bell)—one man can change the world. That is the spirit of America grounded in the spirit of religious liberty.  One man following the dictates of his conscience can call all men to a greater tomorrow if he is free. For him to be free, he must be free to obey first his own conscience and not some government mandate or tyrannical dictate.

Second, religious liberty begets excellence. The reason religious liberty is fundamental is that it frees the individual to call the government (and all citizens) to a higher standard of justice and liberty for all. On what grounds would an individual need redress of his grievances with his government except on the grounds of injustice? Such redress means that justice itself is a higher reality than the government. If men are free to believe in God, they are free to call others to a more excellent reality than that which the government prescribes. While the government must enforce basic laws and rules, the government is not the final authority on the highest truths and greatest impulses of America’s citizenry.

Religious freedom liberty America religionEach individual should be free to explore and create and call others to greater truths.  If, instead, the government is able to define reality for its citizens, then freedom in any meaningful sense is lost. The individual becomes free only in the sense that he is free to choose between government-mandated options.  That’s not First Amendment freedom; that’s a Third World loss of freedom—like the freedom of Chinese families who can choose to have a boy or a girl (but not both).

Sadly, government mandates are trumping individual freedom of religion in the Obama administration.  More and more, religion is welcomed less and less. The HHS mandate in Obamacare is exactly the opposite of religious freedom.

Obamacare mandates—against the religious conscience—that employers must provide coverage for abortion-inducing drugs.  The freedom of religion that the Obama administration has in view is a freedom restricted to the gathered congregation on Sunday morning—not the freedom of religion necessary for individuals to flourish—not First Amendment freedom.

It may seem to some that the HHS mandate concerning “contraception” for women is just a “Catholic” issue or a “Christian” issue, but it is not. When Christians, Muslims, and Jews are forced as individuals to provide for abortions against their faith and their own consciences, they are being asked to rob America of excellence—to stop calling America to higher truth. In effect, they—we—are being asked to just shut up and do what Uncle Sam says.  And that is neither free nor good.

Christians will likely face intensifying persecution, but all Americans will lose. America will be smaller when religion—especially Christian religion—is muzzled. Don’t take it from me. Listen  to another of the early Americans,

Without morals, a republic cannot subsist any length of time, they therefore who are decrying the Christian religion…are undermining the solid foundation of morals, the best security for the duration of free governments.” Charles Carroll to James McHenry November 4, 1800.

Nope! Jesus Had No Wife. Fragment Is Fake


 

About 5 days ago, I posted the news that a gospel fragment was found stating that Jesus had a wife. In that post, I noted how foolish the hype was for insinuating that the fragment was proof of another gospel. Now, it appears my post was correct.  The so-called controversy of the gospel of Jesus’s wife has been exposed as nothing more than sensationalism masking itself as scholarship.

According to Daniel B. Wallace, the Harvard Theological Review has decided not to run the Professor King article concerning the gospel of Jesus’s wife because the fragment on which King’s article relied has been deemed a fake. Better luck next time, Professor King.

 

 

Did Jesus Have a Wife?


There’s a new controversy a-brewing, and it’s all by design. Professor Karen King is promoting the novel idea that gospel jesus wife controversy Jesus had a wife.  She has found a fragment—supposedly from the 4th century (though not yet attested)—which contains the line, “Jesus said to them, My wife….”

Whether anyone in the 4th century actually wrote that line, we do not yet know. We do know that Jesus had a bride—the church (Ephesians 5).  And we know something else: Professor King has not uncovered “The Gospel of Jesus’s Wife,” as she is now calling the fragment.

Referring to a fragment in this way is like calling a business card a biography. As a matter of fact, the fragment is a little smaller than a business card. It contains maybe 30 words in Coptic script. It is hardly sufficient evidence for anything, much less proof that Christianity had lots of different gospels that taught lots of different things (which is the professors real aim—not just in this latest controversy but in all her “scholarship.”)

Dr. Mohler has a full review of the latest claims Professor King is making in regard to a wife for Jesus. His critique is excellent and thorough. For those of you who do not have the time to read through his fuller critique, I offer Dr. Mohler’s final assessment of the matter:

“The Gospel of Jesus’ Wife?” Not hardly. This is sensationalism masquerading as scholarship. Nevertheless, do not miss what all this really represents — an effort to replace biblical Christianity with an entirely new faith.

The reason Dr. Mohler asserts that this is an effort to replace biblical Christianity with an entirely new faith is that news outlets have been all too eager to report the fragment find as though it were actually a new gospel. No new gospel has been found. And, even if it were a whole gospel account, why would anyone on the basis of a single 4th century document consider overturning 20 centuries of tradition which is based on thousands and thousands of documents—many of which were written within decades of Jesus’s life on earth?

The entire affair is a sad commentary of the state of scholarship at Harvard Divinity and in America more generally.  If this is scholarship, then we might as well say business cards are literature and bumper stickers are fine poetry. There is no such thing as a gospel of Jesus’s wife.

3 Steps to Keeping the Internet Under Control


 

Edmundo saved the day!  No, there wasn’t a real life or death threat, but we felt like it was an emergency.  We five Americans were stuck on a rural Asian island with no internet and no wi-fi accessibility.  What in the world were we supposed to do—not update Facebook?  But our hotel had pink flowery sheets, turtles, and an aviary outside our window.  This is classic status update material. We needed wi-fi, and Edmundo came charging in with his Samsung tablet and fully-charged Smartbro sim card in just the nick of time. Internet!

If you are like me, you enjoy being connected. On a deserted fisherman’s beach, I searched Around Me, just for the fun of seeing nothing within 40 miles.  Being disconnected is somewhat akin to being sent involuntarily through de-tox.  Who enjoys that?  Increasingly, we are living in a web-connected world.  Newsweek and others are very concerned that such ubiquitous connectivity is actually disconnecting us both from the rest of the world and from ourselves.

While I often dismiss such concerns as fear-mongering and joy-stealing, I think there is enough evidence beginning to mount that we ought to pay attention to our internet activity.  Even more importantly, as Christians, we must do whatever we do—including using the internet—to glorify God.  So, it seems we need an internet approach strategy.  Here are 3 simple steps to keep the internet under your control.

De-prioritize It

The first step in learning best how to use the internet is to not use the internet.  It sounds contradictory, but it is true. In an age that relies more and more on the internet and every wi-fi related iteration of it, we must not be led into thinking that the internet is as important as it seems. Its presence is everywhere, thus leading us to the erroneous conclusion that it is all-important.  It simply is not. Start your day with the Bible and prayer, never with email or Facebook.

Don’t stop your practice of beginning with a word from God and with a responsive prayer back to God.  There are things much more important than wi-fi book readers and smartphone apps.  Discipline yourself daily for the purpose of godliness and don’t allow the internet to fool you into believing its more important than your daily walk with the Lord.

Prioritize Your Purpose

Second, when you do enter cyberspace, do so with great purpose.  De-prioritize the internet in a general way (step one), then prioritize the internet in a specific way for a specific purpose.  Why get on-line at all?  Most likely, you get on-line for one of 3 distinct purposes:

Resources, Relationships, or Writing.

The internet is resource rich.  Search the term “salmonella” (which I brought home from my last trip to Asia), and you will find 18.3 million websites related to it.  Resources abound on the internet.  Find the few resource sites you trust, bookmark them, then visit them when you need specific information.

Relationships are important, too, and the massive success of Facebook is a clear indication that folks want to use the internet to connect with other people.  So, realize that you cannot keep up with everyone in the world, and narrow your “friends” or the people you “follow” to a small enough number that it keeps you honestly engaged in the lives of others.  Don’t attempt to be the most popular guy on the planet.  Keep the meaning of the word “friend” significant.  Not all friends are equal, and acquaintances are not the same as friends.  Keep your social network one which keeps you in touch with your family and friends.

Finally, some folks have something to say.  The internet can surely become a megaphone for those with a message.  Think through your subject. Study the way others are speaking on the subject, then get on the internet for the purpose of stating your message clearly, concisely, and convincingly.

In short, prioritize your purpose before opening your internet browser.  Are you opening for resources, to improve relationships, or to write your message?  Open the internet with purpose.

Personalize

Finally, personalize your internet experience.  Don’t attempt to duplicate the internet experience of others.  There are enjoyable and edifying adventures on the internet.  Let your online adventure reflect your individual personality.

For example, I have recently switched to Google Chrome (which I love).  It automatically opens 4 pages for me: a church page, a blog page, a politics page, and a sports page.  I check these four pages, then I leave the internet spider’s web.  Typically, I check email and Facebook from my phone.

Like you (perhaps), I struggle to keep the internet as an instrument instead of becoming its addict.  It’s good for us to think about the best ways to employ the internet so that it serves our needs instead of making us its slaves.  What are some strategies you employ?  Hopefully, this three-step strategy will help.

 

3 Life Lessons from Listening to Groovy Music


When it comes to music, I got stuck in the ‘70’s.  In my mind, very little compares favorably to Carole King or James Taylor—or Gordon Lightfoot, America, or Seals and Crofts.  My favorite Spotify playlist is called “Dad’s Groovy Music” because since the ‘70’s, I have been groovy—the way a 33LP ought to be.

So it’s no wonder that I dig Crosby, Stills, and Nash’s most popular single: Southern Cross. (I know, it’s from the early 80’s, but it has the flavor of the 70’s.)   Ostensibly, the song is about the famous astronomical wonder down under: The Southern Cross.  In reality, the song is about the breakup of Stephen Stills’s marriage.  When understood in this context, the song contains at least three significant life lessons.

First—and I will admit that this first lesson applies more broadly than a single song—Southern Cross is about listening for redemption.  Some would argue that Christians ought not listen to secular music at all because it does not glorify God.  They would say that holiness demands our abstaining from Crosby, Stills, and Nash. I am not mocking their position.  The point is valid. I once cleansed myself of a 130 volume CD collection out of concern for holiness.  Music is a vehicle for carrying a message, and its message can easily carry us away from everything good. Never listen with an unguarded mind.  But if we listen with a guarded mind, we can find hints of redemption.

Here is what I mean. In the Old Testament, God’s people were told to be Holy because the Lord their God is Holy.  The same message is affirmed for God’s people in the New Testament.  But a significant change happened between the Old Testament and the New.  Jesus came, and with Jesus came redemption.  In the Old Testament, holiness took the form of abstaining from things the rest of the nations were indulging.

Life Lesson 1: In the New Testament, holiness looks less like abstention and more like redemption.  Meditate on Paul’s comments in Colossians 2:20-22, and you will see what I mean.[1]  Christians are holy through the redemption of Christ. We are alive to a new resurrected reality and, as such, ought to be those who point everything and everyone in this world to reality of Christ and His kingdom, which has begun.

So, with redemptive ears turned to the message of the Southern Cross, I offer two more life lessons.  These are easily grasped.  Stephen Sills wrote this song after his divorce in an attempt to find healing.  His crying out to his estranged wife is evident in the line: “In a noisy bar in Avalon, I tried to call you.”  He then admits that he understands why twice she ran away.

Southern Cross on Australia Flag

But in the chorus, he makes plain the permanence of marriage: “What heaven brought you and me cannot be forgotten.”  Stills even acknowledges that “spirits” are using him, and a larger voice is calling.  He gets that divorce cost him something real.  He gets that he needs something larger than himself if he will heal.  He looks to the heavens for his help but comes up short, finding only the Southern Cross. With redemptive ears, we can hear the permanence of eternal things even in secular lyrics.

Life Lesson Two: God has set eternity into every heart (Ecclesiastes 3:11). Listen to others with redemptive ears, and you will be able to point them to eternal realities.

Finally, realize that most folks live in a contradictory mindset.  While Stills gets the eternal nature of marriage, he feels also that it is lost. So, he must conclude, “Somebody fine will come along, Make me forget about loving you. At the Southern Cross.”  On the one hand, he sees that marriage is an eternal reality which cannot be forgotten.  On the other hand, when he feels all is lost, he professes belief that someone will come along who can erase it all.

If we listen closely to what others are saying, we might help them see that eternal things are real, and they need not give in to the contradiction.

Life Lesson Three: Eternity is real. Don’t live in contradiction.


            [1] Colossians2:20ff, If you have died with Christ to the elementary principles of the world, why, as if you were living in the world, do you submit yourself to decrees, such as, 21 “Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch!” 22 (which all refer to things destined to perish with use)—in accordance with the commandments and teachings of men? 23 These are matters which have, to be sure, the appearance of wisdom in self-made religion and self-abasement and severe treatment of the body, but are of no value against fleshly indulgence (NASB).