How Should We Pray?


Several years ago, a pastor friend confided in me. He did not know how to pray.

He hated to admit it, but he could not sustain prayers longer than a few seconds. Sustained prayer was for him as foreign as Durian candy in a Michelin five star restaurant. It just wasn’t happening.

My friend wanted help, but who could he ask? How would he not be condemned by others for simply asking the question? Thankfully, he trusted me enough to ask for help. And he was not condemned. Hopefully, he was helped.

Now I am hoping you might be helped, too. If a pastor made it into ministry without understanding how to pray, then (it’s at least possible that) other Christians might need help. Others may also be afraid to ask for instructions. After all, what Christian wants to admit that he doesn’t know how to pray?

If you are one who wishes you could pray more confidently, then you’re in pretty good company! According to Luke 11:1, Jesus’s followers asked him to teach them how to pray. In the longer account in Matthew 6, the Lord’s Prayer is an introductory model for daily Christian prayer. If you’re struggling with your prayer life, consider following the Lord’s Prayer as a model.

Here it is from Matthew 6:9-13,Lords Prayer Process2

…“Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name.
10 Your kingdom come,
your will be done,
    on earth as it is in heaven.
11 Give us this day our daily bread,
12 and forgive us our debts,
    as we also have forgiven our debtors.
13 And lead us not into temptation,
    but deliver us from evil.

NOTE THE 7 MOVEMENTS OF THE LORD’S PRAYER

  1. Identity — Our Father

Begin your daily prayer with a reminder that you are a child of God. You know the living God as your Heavenly Father. Notice that the prayer begins with “Our” Father. Not only does the believer begin with his or her identity as a child of God, but the children of God also recognize their identity as belonging to one another. The Lord’s Prayer is for the church! Enter prayer as part of the family of God.

  1. Eternity — The One Who Is in Heaven

Jesus next instructs His family of followers on earth to remember Heaven. There is distance between God’s children and God, distance between earth and Heaven. And yet, there is a direct line of communication available from one realm to the other. Because our identity belongs to God, our earthly location is no hindrance to a heavenly audience with Him. And because He is God in Heaven, He has resources beyond earth and time to bring to bear for the good of His children.

  1. Holiness — Holy God

Third, confess the Holiness of God. He alone is the supreme one. This confession serves both as a confession of God’s greatness and a reminder of our own limits. You and I are not the central figures of the universe, and God knows that. This portion of the prayer helps each of us orient ourselves to God as the center. Our part is to serve Him. His part is not to serve us (though He freely and graciously does). Keeping God central is key to faithful praying.

  1. Kingdom — Heaven and Earth

Naturally, the fourth part flows directly from God’s holiness. His will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Here is a rich and fertile field for cultivating prayer concerns. Think of all the ways the earth is out of sorts—the evil, the injustice, the lack of love for others. Pray for earth to meet heaven and for Christ to bring the new Jerusalem to earth. Pray that a uniting of God’s peace and order would prevail upon the earth. At Christ’s return, a new heavens and a new earth will unite God with his people, and all will be right.

  1. Provision — Daily Bread

As God is accomplishing this cosmic mission on earth, the fifth part of prayer comes into play. Prayer begs that God would accomplish the simple small favor of feeding us as he does the beasts, the birds, and the creatures of the sea. Our plea is sustenance, not superabundance. Our prayer has already been for God’s will to be done—not ours. We ask him to remember our needs as he also supplies his own.

The prayer for daily bread is humbling when we already have a superabundance. Yet some Christians around the world are in prison for their faith. Others are suffering terribly on account of Christ. Maybe remember to pray here for persecuted and suffering members of the Christian family to receive daily bread. See www.prisoneralert.com

  1. Forgiveness — Receiving / Offering

Noting the significance of God’s kingdom mission throughout, we must pray to do our part in the redemption process. Redemption offers us forgiveness of sins. Confess and seek forgiveness for every sin that comes to mind. Trusting that you receive forgiveness from God, pray for grace so you can offer forgiveness gladly and freely to others. Whom do you need to forgive today? Tell your Father you forgive those people today. Tell those people also if you are able.

  1. Sanctification — Redemption/ Deliverance

Finally, as the Father continues to work His will on earth as it is in Heaven, you continue praying for your own will to be in tune with His. Pray for His leading. Pray against all your temptations. Pray for deliverance both from temptations and from sin (yours and others). Pray for others in danger of sin. Pray against their temptations. Pray for their deliverance, too. Sanctification follows such praying.

May the Lord encourage you to pray confidently each day.

(Feel free to share other methods of praying daily)

Asia Bibi and Why She Matters


Alumni from CBU and from the BAT program texted me today and tagged me on social media to make sure I noticed the release of Aasiya Noreen (better known as Asia Bibi). They remember praying for her many times in various classes over the years. Finally, Asia Bibi has now been released, after more than 8 years in jail.

Asia grew up in Punjab Province in Pakistan. She is a Christian woman—the only one inAsia Bibi Persecution Pakistan Pray her village. She and her husband have two daughters together. She also has three stepchildren from her husband’s previous marriage. Her husband and two daughters left Pakistan and relocated to London, England, for their safety, while Asia’s appeals continued at a snail’s pace through Pakistani courts.

No credible evidence was established to prove that Asia committed blasphemy against Muhammad. However, she remained in custody. The reason? Fear. Muslim judges and political leaders have not taken up her case because doing so would likely mean giving their lives. Even knowing the stakes, two governing officials over the years have tried to help Asia.

Punjab governor Salmaan Taseer came to Asia’s aid in 2011. On the basis of Justice, he pleaded for her release. He was shot by one of his own security team members. Upon hearing of Taseer’s death, Asia reportedly wept inconsolably, knowing that this man sacrificed his life for her.

Another of her advocates—Shabaz Bhatti—worked through parliament to end Pakistan’s infamous “Blasphemy Law 295c.” Bhatti was the only Christian member of Pakistan’s Cabinet. He was the Minority Affairs Minister. On March 2, 2011, gunmen ambushed Bhatti’s car near his house, killing him. He knew the stakes and had told his closest companions he was willing to die for justice.

Today, three Muslim judges–chief justice Mian Saqib Nisar and justices Khosa and Mazhar Alam Khan Miankhel—have risked their own lives for the cause of truth and justice. In their decision, they quoted Muslim sources demonstrating that, yes, blasphemy is awful, but so, too, is falsely accusing others of it and sentencing them to death. Knowing they have righted the wrong of sentencing Asia to death, these courageous Muslim judges have now put themselves at risk of the same.

The Red Mosque in Paris, the Islamist TLP in Pakistan, and Muslims throughout the region have little interest in justice. They demand blood. They are angry. But James taught us long before Muhammad was born that the anger of man does not bring about the righteousness of God. May the Lord strengthen all people of good will to protect Asia, her family, and these courageous Muslim judges and against the bloodthirsty mobs.

Religious Liberty in the Toilet


I was minding my own business, just making the regular afternoon pilgrimage to the men’s room. Out of nowhere, a colleague popped in and asked me a most unexpected question:

refugee-mother-and-child“Are you upset with how the world is responding to our new president? I bet you’re unnerved by the way the world thinks he’s a Christian!”

As a rule, I don’t debate politics much anymore. I certainly don’t do so in the men’s room. But the question struck me—blindsided me—with such swift assault that I mumbled my reply before having time to think. My reply was something like,

“It doesn’t matter who the President is; many folks will assume he is a Christian because he represents the U.S. And besides, I don’t think he will be worse than our last President.”

I think it was the last remark that left my friend so shocked and unsettled.

“What… what do you mean?” he replied.

There in the men’s room, I proceeded to unfold a litany of failures from the last decade which have led to a wholesale depopulation of Christians from the Middle East. (For one such example, see Nina Shea’s article concerning the Obama Administration’s reluctance to use the term genocide in defense of Christians.)

Many examples could be offered about damage done to Christians over the past ten years, but the gist of my frustration centered around the Obama administration’s orchestrated attempt to redefine (weaken) the concept of religious liberty in the U.S. Once the concept was weakened in the U.S., the reverberating effects around the world were easy to predict. If Christians in the U.S. aren’t free to bring their beliefs into the public arena, then why should Communists rulers in China grant Christians free speech in public?

The U.S. has been the beacon lighting the way for religious freedom around the world. When the main light goes dim; all lights emanating from it get darker and darker. The last decade has seen religious liberty go pretty dark.

To illustrate, consider Elliott Abrams’ article in Newsweek last fall which featured the startling headline

The U.S. Bars Christian, Not Muslim, Refugees from Syria.

Abrams explains,

The headline for this column—The U.S. Bars Christian, Not Muslim, Refugees From Syria—will strike many readers as ridiculous.

But the numbers tell a different story: The United States has accepted 10,801 Syrian refugees, of whom 56 are Christian. Not 56 percent; 56 total, out of 10,801. That is to say, one-half of 1 percent.

In a recent Christianity Today article, Arab church leaders were quoted as being opposed to the policies of the Obama administration. These same church leaders thought the Trump Executive Order would have the effect of causing more Christians to leave Iraq and Syria–an outcome they don’t wish to see.

I don’t mean for this post to be political, just like I didn’t intend to get into a political debate in the men’s room. But there is no doubt Christians have suffered terribly for the past ten years, partly because of our political decisions. Let’s hope and pray the next decade will be less violent and intolerant toward Christians.

#What Is Aleppo? Why Christians must care


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What should Christians do?aleppo-syria

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

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

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

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

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

Paul, Prison, and the President


AN ANCIENT PRINCIPLE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

IN AMERICAN PRACTICE

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

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

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

(to be continued…)

Why Sit in Prison?


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Are Christians Persecuted in America?


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why hate family?


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

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

persecution love hate uganda

Creative commons

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

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

And Jesus is life.

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

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

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

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

New Hope for Asia Bibi?


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

Salmaan Taseer Assassinated for helping Asia Bibi in Pakistan

Salmaan Taseer
Assassinated for helping Asia Bibi in Pakistan

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pakistan Persecution Christian

Shahbaz Bhatti
Assassinated for opposing Pakistan’s blasphemy laws.

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

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

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

How Do You Obey Hebrews 13:3?


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some Simple Ways to Pray for Asia This Week


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Should Beheaded Christians Be Called Martyrs?


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

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

Read the post below and decide for yourself.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is Persecution Just a Myth?


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

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

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

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

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

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

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.