Is Persecution Just a Myth?


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

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

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

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

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

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

How Serious Are You About the Lord’s Supper


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How Many Meanings Can a Biblical Text Have?


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Definitions Needed for Persecuted Christians in Nigeria

Why Definitions Matter

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

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

What Good Is Hell?


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Family Christian Family Persecution

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why the Mark Driscoll Deal Is Not a Big Deal


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All over the world, Christians are persecuted severely.

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

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

Should Christians Stage Protests Against Persecution


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Christians Can’t Trust Chariots or Horses


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

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

            “Who execute a plan, but not Mine,

            And make an alliance, but not of My Spirit,

            In order to add sin to sin;

      2Who proceed down to Egypt

            Without consulting Me,

            To take refuge in the safety of Pharaoh

            And to seek shelter in the shadow of Egypt!

      3“Therefore the safety of Pharaoh will be your shame

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(To be continued…)

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

The Difference Between Religious Freedom and Persecution

Why Christians Must Fight for Religious Liberty

Timeline of How Christians Were Eliminated in Mosul, Iraq


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

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

(From Jubilee Campaign)

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

TIMELINE OF ISIS’ ATTEMPT TO ELIMINATE CHRISTIANS FROM MOSUL

(From Assyrian International News Agency)

Timeline of ISIS in Mosul

Posted 2014-07-29 15:57 GMT

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

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

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

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

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

How to Pray for Christians in Iraq (4 Ways)


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

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

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

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

Christianity Today Mosul Christian Persecution #WeAreN

Mosul Christian Home (source: Christianity Today)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why that Odd Facebook Symbol Is So Important


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who Is Persecuting Palestinian Christians?


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

Here’s a Great Test for True Religion


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Christians Stop Calling Yourselves Sinners


Billy Joel famously confessed in song,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fan of saints not sinners

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

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

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

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

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

What Happens When a 1,600 Year Tradition Ends?


Persecution Iraq Christians ISISThere are two traditions that have recently ended.  The contrast between them is astounding.

Traditions are interesting things. Our traditions anchor us to the past while guiding us toward the future. They act as handrails along our paths, offering us both security and a sense of affirmation as we continue walking life’s road. Too often, in fact, we are so comfortable in this walk that we forget—or simply fail to realize—the presence of tradition.

And then something happens. The tradition is threatened, or taken away. Our senses are shocked, as we experience the full, paralyzing thud of a tradition ended.

A couple of years ago at Auburn University, a tradition was threatened when Harvey Updike, a rabid Alabama fan, poisoned the live oak trees at Toomer’s Corner. The tradition of rolling the oak trees at Toomer’s Corner after an Auburn football victory moved from “threatened” to “altogether lost,” as the Spike 80DF poison which Updike used did its work, leeching the life from the root system of the trees.

Before the trees were completely dead and taken away, the university along with the city of Auburn—indeed most of central Alabama—held one last rally to roll the oaks at Toomer’s Corner.  You can see the spectacle of this tradition ending by watching the video below. (I believe my daughter, an Auburn student, is somewhere in the mass of humanity captured by the robotic camera.)

No one knows when or exactly how the tradition of rolling the oak trees began, but how it ended is now obvious to all. And most folks—even the Auburn Football Traditionsmajority of Alabama fans—understand that something precious was lost when the live oak trees at Toomer’s Corner finally died.

Yet, it must be said (despite the images in the video) that throwing toilet paper into oak trees in central Alabama is a small tradition. The tour guide who introduced me to the trees (when they were still alive) suggested the tradition was at most 100 years old (probably less). And the tradition had to do with football, which, contrary to the primitive emotional purgations of Saturday afternoons in the fall, is not a life or death matter.

The tradition of ringing church bells in Mosul, Iraq, on the other hand is a life or death matter. It has to do with the life and death of Christ.  This tradition has been incalculably more significant than rolling oak trees with toilet paper.

First, the tradition of ringing the bells signals the serving of Mass—an Orthodox Christian tradition—in a predominately Muslim culture. At the very least such service is courageous. At its best, the service is an offering of Christ to those who understand their need for an atoning sacrifice.[1]

So, second, because the tradition concerns the gospel of Christ, it is a matter of life and death—eternally speaking. The church tradition also represents a heritage and a way of life for thousands and thousands of Orthodox Christians who have inhabited the Middle East for more than a millennium.

Third, the tradition of ringing the church bells for Mass in Mosul, Iraq, has been a more significant tradition because of its age and endurance.  The tradition began closer to Paul’s ministry than to ours. There was no hint of a USA or a Soviet Union or France or even England when this tradition began. Week after week, the bells have rung.  Week after week the Mass has been served.  These church bells have been ringing for one thousand, six-hundred years–that’s 83,200 weeks. And now they’ve stopped.

As of June 15, church bells ring no more in the ISIS-controlled[2] area of Mosul, Iraq. Violence against Christians there has almost ensured that the Orthodox Christian tradition will soon no longer be found in that ancient place. Over the last decade, approximately 90% of Christians have fled from their homes, business, and church buildings in Iraq as a result of the intense persecution they’ve suffered.

And yet, the bells went quiet so silently. There was no last hurrah to say good-bye.  Indeed, the scene in Mosul was the exact opposite of that found at Auburn. At Auburn, people swarmed in masses to make the final TP offering. In Mosul, people ran away by the thousands.  At Auburn, TV crews parked with satellite towers and provided aerial coverage. In Mosul, like the church bells, everything got very quiet. No one seemed to notice. But the Orthodox Christian tradition ended.

The Chaldean Catholic Church’s Archbishop Bashar Warda of Erbil, in Kurdish-governed northern Iraq, is reported as saying that for the first time in 1,600 years there was no Mass said in Mosul on Sunday June 15.   

 

 

[1] I am neither Roman Catholic nor Eastern Orthodox. Thus I do not ascribe to the presentation of the Mass. Nevertheless, there is no doubt that the Mass is—in one sense or another—a presentation of Christ (either in offering or, as in my tradition, a remembrance).  It is a weighty matter of eternal significance.

[2] ISIS stands for Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.

This Simple Prayer Request May Be the Best Request of the Year!


There is no spiritual equivalent to the Academy Awards. Could you imagine a gala event in Nashville where Billy Bob Johnson from Plano, TX, wins this year’s Golden Bible for “Best Supporting Evangelist”?  John MacArthur and Mark Driscoll could slug it out for “Best Argument over Spiritual Gifting.” Admittedly, the concept is mildly grotesque.

Christians North Korea PersecutionBut if there were an award for “Best Prayer Request of 2014,” I would nominate the following:

“Pray with us.”

Doesn’t sound like much, does it? But consider the origin of this request. It comes from a Christian living in North Korea. Many have called North Korea the worst place in the world to be a Christian. You might remember back in March 33 Christians were scheduled for execution on account of their work in the underground church.

Yet Eric Foley, a missions strategist intimately acquainted with Christians in North Korea, makes a strong case against thinking of North Korea as the worst place to be a Christian. Foley says,

“I think that if people say the ‘worst’ and mean the costliest, then that’s an accurate statement. I’ve never met a casual Christian in North Korea! But if we mean that it’s a place where God’s power is least evident, or where Christians feel the most forsaken, then North Korean Christians would deny that adamantly,” he explains.

“North Koreans insist that they receive everything they need from God in order to be faithful. So they say: ‘Don’t pray for us, pray with us. God will find us faith where he calls us, and he will provide’…”

There it is! Believers in North Korea—where if caught they will be sent to a concentration camp or killed—do not feel defeated. They do not want us to pray for them, as though they are needy. They want us to pray with them—for the gospel to triumph in North Korea! What a difference a little preposition makes!

A simple preposition makes this prayer request one of the most profound I’ve ever heard. It shatters complacency. It kills any hint of defeat—or even retreat! It says the gospel is alive in North Korea. It bids us join with our prayers for the victory that one day will come. Won’t you join the fight and pray for our brothers and sisters in North Korea?  Don’t you think this simple prayer request demonstrates the Spirit and power of Christ?

 

 Christians in the Worst Prisons

Persecution Terribly Real in North Korea

North Korea NOT the Worst Place to Be a Christian?

 

5 Reasons to Pray for the Persecuted Church


I have a close brother in the ministry who sent a text to me last night asking me to pray for him as he ministered to a family in need. Another brother needs me to pray for his daughter who is recovering from a complicated surgery. Yet another friend needs prayer because she is struggling with forgiving someone.

Greg Cochran Prayer for Persecuted ChristiansI, too, am struggling with discipline, devotion, and evangelism. I, too, need prayer. What Christian doesn’t need prayer, right? Have you ever asked someone to pray for you? Did you mean it? Do you really think it matters?  Of course, you do. You know that you are often sustained by the prayers of the saints lifting your cause before God’s throne of grace.

We all wish others would pray for us. Therefore, prayer for others—maybe especially for the persecuted church—falls under the rubric of Christ’s “Golden Rule” found in Matthew 7:12, “In everything, therefore, treat people in the same way you want them to treat you, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” Do you want or need folks praying for you? Pray for them, especially for those suffering the greatest needs.

Second, the Bible almost commands us to pray for the persecuted. I know that’s weird to say, but there is no direct command which says, “Pray for the persecuted church.” I think that’s because the Spirit makes it so obvious that we don’t really need to be commanded to do it. What Christian would think there is no need to pray for those Christians whose home has been destroyed and whose lives are in constant danger (as is currently the case in Iraq)?

Even if there is no direct imperative to pray, there are several commands in Scripture which point to that end. Paul commands the church at Thessalonica to pray for him and his team so that they will speak effectively and be rescued from the evil of their persecutors (2 Thess. 3:1-2).  If Paul needed Christians to pray that he might be faithful through persecution, then, perhaps, Christians suffering persecution today need prayer, too.

In addition, Christians are told to pray concerning their own experiences of suffering (see Matthew 24:20, for instance). And Christians are commanded to pray for those who are persecuting Christians. It seems to me that such a command argues that we ought to pray not only for the persecuted, but also for the persecutor.

Third, there are biblical examples of prayers being effective on behalf of the persecuted. One great example concerns the Apostle Paul. In 2 Corinthians 1:8-11, Paul tells of a desperate situation he suffered while in Asia. The situation was so bad, he says, that “he despaired even of life itself.”

And yet, he was miraculously and powerfully delivered from what seemed to him certain death. How was he delivered? Ultimately, he says, he was delivered by God, who raises the dead. Yet he also commends the church for the role she played in his rescue: “you also joining in helping us through your prayers.” We can conclude that the prayers of the righteous are effective for delivering needy brothers and sisters from desperate situations of persecution. The church helped Paul survive his suffering in Asia. And the church can help those suffering today through faithful prayers.

Fourth, praying for other brothers and sisters in their times of suffering helps Christians to obey the command of Hebrews 13:3. While not a direct command to pray for the persecuted, Hebrews 13:3—the command to remember the persecuted—surely includes prayer. Indeed, it is a more broad command than simply praying. Remember Christians in prison, as though in prison with them. Remember those suffering ill treatment on account of Christ. Yet surely such remembering includes praying for the persecuted.

Finally, our praying for suffering Christians reflects the love of Christ Himself for the church.  Christ stood to receive Stephen, the first martyr after him (see Acts 7). He is as concerned for the suffering church as a groom is concerned for the appearance of his bride (Ephesians 5). What if wedding congregants were to spit upon the bride, curse at her, kick her, and beat her while she made her way down the aisle? Would the groom not erupt in violent anger?

So it is with Christ. He is working to make His bride ready for the final consummation. According to Ephesians 5, Christ is working to make His bride—the church—spotless and blameless, to present her to the Father in all her splendor. This means, of course, that those who persecute the church are persecuting Christ’s bride and body. It is impossible for Christ to be more intimately linked to others than He is with His church.

There is no question that Christ lives to make intercession for His church. Thus, when we intercede on behalf of our suffering brothers and sisters, we imitate Christ. We can believe it is the Spirit of Christ who so compels us to pray for the persecuted.

Why Pray at All? (Awesome Privilege of Prayer)

A Simple Morning Prayer for You

Should We Pray for Satan?

Pray for the Persecuted and the Persecutor

Why Hobby Lobby Decision Matters for All American


There are two major stories whose trajectories are coalescing toward a permanent loss of religious liberty in the United States. The first story is the on-going saga known affectionately as Obamacare. The second story is more subtle, under the radar, but perhaps more damaging in its scope. It is the story of code enforcement. Let me explain these in order.

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

Obama Signing Healthcare Law Obamacare into effect

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Imagine Living as a Christian in Nigeria


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

Religious Freedom down Hostility Up

Freedom Down, Hostility Up

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More thoughts about religious liberty

 

2 Persecution Lessons from a Keeper’s Broken Leg


Well, this isn’t exactly from the 2014 Fifa World Cup, but it is related to soccer and, more importantly, to our persecuted family.

Before the game, our team took note of the size of the goalie. He was at least 6’3” and weighed in at a solid 280. He was a big guy—like a mountain with a t-shirt. We thought (or hoped) his size would limit his agility, but then we realized he wouldn’t need agility because he filled the goal simply by standing in front of it.

Unfortunately, this young man broke his leg on a freak play shortly after the game began.  We never got an2 persecution lesson's from broken leg opportunity to see what kind of goalie he would be. Though we didn’t get to learn much about his goal-keeping skills, we did get a chance to learn a couple of important lessons from him.  At least, I learned from watching this accident unfold.  From watching this injury drama play out, I realized two important lessons about the church in relation to persecution.

Lesson One: Suffering as One

First, this young man broke his leg, but his entire—uncommonly large—body had to be hoisted onto a gurney.  His entire body was taken to the hospital—not just his leg. The reason is obvious. Bodies are a single unity of several parts. Paul talks about this in 1 Corinthians 12, describing how the church is a body of many parts, each doing its own job, but all being unified as one.  In the same sense, each congregation belongs to every other congregation as one, universal reality called the body of Christ.

In Hebrews 13:3, the writer states plainly that all Christians (in all churches around the world) should remember the 2 Persecution Lessons from Broken Legpersecuted church “since you yourselves are in the body.”  There is one body, and all Christians are a part of it. The body suffers and triumphs as one.  The idea that a Christian could live unaware of the persecuted church is as unthinkable in the New Testament as the idea that this king-sized goalkeeper could play a soccer game without his left leg.  Bodies are very much aware when even the smallest parts are hurt, injured, or diseased. The whole body suffers as one. I saw this lesson plainly as the ambulance took this player away.

Lesson Two: Healing as One

Second, just as the body suffers as one, so, too, the body heals together as one. There is energy expended by one part of the body (the healthy part) in order to speed aid and healing to the other part.  Again, this goalkeeper helped me to see profound reality.

The game we played against his team was part of a high school soccer tournament. So, later in the evening—after he was discharged from the hospital, this goalie came back to the field to support his team.  Obviously, his leg was in a cast, and he was using crutches.  The crutches were the key for me to unlock this second lesson.

This young man is using greater energy and strength from his upper body in order to minister to the needs of his lower, injured body.  In the same way, as we minister to the persecuted church, we will both speed her healing and strengthen ourselves. This keeper is going to get stronger in his arms and his shoulders from lugging a 280 lb. frame around the schoolyard over the next two months. Just as you’ve heard that blind people often have more highly developed hearing, so, too, this lower body weakness will lead this goalkeeper to upper body strength.

We in America who suffer lighter persecution than our brothers and sisters abroad, should remember that we are one body with them. We ought to suffer with them (as though in prison with them).  As we do this, we, too, should get stronger in our faith. God has designed bodies to work as one, the stronger parts ministering to the weaker, while both are being made stronger.

Who knew that a soccer tournament with a terrible injury would serve as such a great reminder of our responsibility as Christians to remember those who are persecuted for the sake of Christ? What is your understanding of Christian responsibility to the persecuted?

 Persecution is a social justice issue

One Reason It’s So Important for All Christians to Understand Persecution 

The Apostle Paul’s Seemingly Impossible Command


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Why God Is Not Impressed with Our Anger

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

God Restrains His Wrath, And We Can Restrain Ours

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


In my previous post, I sought to show why it is important for Christians to fight for religious liberty. What are some simple ways Christians can do this without selling out to a political agenda? I thought of 3 simple ways to get the conversation going:

  1. Religious Freedom in America

    Wikimedia Commons

    Learn. Disciples are learners. Primarily, this learning must be focused on learning obedience to Jesus Christ (Matthew 28:18-20). But Christians have an obligation to be good citizens as well (Romans 13; 1 Timothy 2:2, etc). We must learn first what belongs to Caesar and what belongs to God in order then to obey Christ’s command to render unto Caesar that which is his (Matthew 22:21).

    1. One good way to learn is by studying Baptist history. For all our faults, the one truth we Baptists have supported well is religious liberty. Baptists such as the Danbury Baptist Association, John Leland, and Roger Williams, significantly shaped America.
    2. A simple way to learn about religious liberty is to pay attention to the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, now headed by Russell Moore. Dr. Moore is gifted and persuasive, and the ERLC is very good at keeping churches and Christians informed about issues of importance. For example, here is a helpful brochure.
  2. Engage. Speak to your friends, family members, and colleagues about the issues which you are studying. Do not be combative or arrogant. Be genuinely concerned and seek the most Christ-exalting, truth-honoring, love-producing position available on issues which the rest of the world invariably must strangle into a political ideology. Denny Burk provides us with this example concerning how to love your trans-gender neighbor.
  3. Bear Witness. Bearing gospel witness is more than throwing out a tract and calling for repentance. Gospel witness is never less than speaking the truth of the gospel for the good of those to hear, but the biblical vision of gospel witness is even more.
    1. According to the Bible, all of life is witness. Jesus, in giving instruction for His followers to become the world’s disciple-makers, told them first, “You are witnesses…” (Luke 24:48).  The same is true of Christ’s followers being “salt” and “light.” This is what we are as much as it is what we do. So we must bear witness by always walking in a manner worthy of the gospel, in truth and love.
    2. Collectively, the church can then become a witness, too. John says that the world will know that we are Christ’s followers by the way we love one another. Be a faithful church member. Share Christ in fellowship with one another as a gospel community. Invite others into that community. Share Christ with those you meet who are trapped by sin’s delusion and bondage. Others do not represent our political enemy. They represent all of us who once were thieves, fornicators, adulterers, drunkards, or homosexuals, but we were washed with the water of the Word (1 Cor 6).
    3. See this moving testimony for a way to witness to the “outside” world of unbelievers.

In other words, now is not the time to retreat from society into our Christian enclaves. This is also not the time for Christians to disengage from issues because of not wanting to be owned by a political party. As laudable as it may be to avoid political trappings, such a decision to disengage on controversial issues may simply be nothing more than cowardice, hoping to avoid controversy and persecution by remaining silent where the battle rages. It’s not as though the Bible is silent on issues of sexual morality. We may need a little shot of Jesus to awaken us from our wishful slumber: Whoever is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels (Luke 9).

Or, we might be encouraged by this quote, typically assigned to Martin Luther:[1]

“If I profess, with the loudest voice and the clearest exposition, every portion of the truth of God except precisely that little point which the world and the devil are at that moment attacking, I am not confessing Christ, however boldly I may be professing Christianity. Where the battle rages the loyalty of the soldier is proved; and to be steady on all the battle-field besides is mere flight and disgrace to him if he flinches at that one point.”

May the Lord grant that we Christians in the USA will not fail to uphold justice and liberty. Our greatest desire may well be that the world would know Christ, the ultimate truth who sets us free, but we should also not forget that as Christians we live in a nation that prides itself on liberty and justice for all. Let us hold our neighbors accountable to God and each other by promoting liberty.

Religious Liberty Important for All Americans

Why Christians Should fight for Religious Liberty

Should Pastors Preach Political Messages?

 

[1] Quote usually ascribed to Luther. But the exact quote is not found in his original writings. The quote, perhaps, originates from a 19th century novel. See this article for more.

Why Christians Must Fight for Religious Liberty in America


Freedom, though given freely by God, isn’t offered freely by Man. It must be fought for and won, sometimes through reasoned debate and cool persuasion, other times through battles with swords or guns. Tyranny is always lurking, scheming to usurp individual liberty. This is as true in America as it is anywhere.

Religious Liberty Persecution America FreedomI am thankful therefore for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention. The ERLC understands freedom. Recently, the ERLC hosted a panel discussion on the Hobby Lobby case and what it means for all Americans. The entire transcript is worth reviewing, but there are two points in particular that I hope you will ponder.

First, ERLC President Russell Moore explains that many people of faith seem to miss that religious liberty IS a gospel issue. Moore—provocatively and persuasively—demonstrates why Christians must oppose persecution and a loss of liberty in America:

So a lot of people assume well, we are standing in the place of Jesus, standing before [Pilate], who cares whether or not we have our rights and our liberties taken away? Jesus went as a sheep to the slaughter and so should we. What people aren’t recognizing there is that they are not only standing in the place of Jesus, they are also standing in the place of [Pilate] because the scripture says, Romans 13, “the God holds Caesar accountable for the use of the sword.” In a Democratic Republic, that means ultimately the people are held accountable so the question is not just are we going to be persecuted? The question is are we going to be persecutors? So if we shrug this off, what we are doing is consigning future generations and we are consigning people’s consciences to a tyranny that we are going to be held accountable for. 

I have spoken to many Christians, young and old, who think that we should go like sheep through the tyrannical slaughter of our religious liberties. But it seems a bit irresponsible and unloving toward our own children, grandchildren, and future generations of the church. As I’ve pointed out before, when we as Americans give up the fight, the situation gets worse for believers all over the world. We may indeed be living through the end of our religious liberty, but let us at least not go down without a fight—for the sake of our spiritual progeny who will suffer more dramatically the ill effects of such loss.

The second significant point in the transcript comes from Saddleback pastor Rick Warren. Pastor Rick clearly and eloquently lays out the case for why religious liberty is the foundation of all other liberty:

The first amendment, religious freedom is called America’s first freedom for intentional reasons. The first phrase of the first sentence of the first amendment of the Constitution is freedom of religion. In our constitution, freedom of religion comes before freedom of the press. It comes before freedom of speech. It comes before freedom to assemble. It comes before the right to bear arms. Why? Because if I don’t have the freedom to believe and practice my beliefs, I don’t need the freedom of press. If I don’t have the freedom of conscience to live as I believe God is telling me to live, then I don’t need freedom to assemble. If I don’t have the freedom to think and believe and act on those beliefs, I don’t need freedom of speech or freedom of the press or even any of these other freedoms. This is America’s first freedom because it is fundamental.

As I said, the entire transcript is worth reading. These two points, I think, nail our present situation and identify clearly for us why it is so important that we not abrogate our responsibility to speak up, to preach, to pray, and to serve the church and the world with healthy doses of Christian love.

America, and thus the rest of the world, losing freedom:

Some of the people Obamacare hurts

Another example of a loss of liberty

9 Reasons to Watch the 2014 World Cup


Should Christians Watch the World Cup?

The short answer (for me) is “Yes.” Whatever we do, we do all to the glory of God.  Can the 2014 FIFA World Cup be watched to the glory of God?  Each Christian will want to answer that question for himself.  As for me, I have answered the question with 9 ways to watch the World Cup to the glory of God. (By the way, we are planning World Cup parties both for fellowship and outreach purposes). Here we go…

World Cup Christians Glory God

(c) Getty Images

9.     The World Cup—like no other sport really—focuses our attention on the world.  I have a tendency to be “parochial,” meaning that I tend to think like an American, but Christ is reigning over all the earth.  So, watching Brazil, Iran, and South Korea play soccer causes me to think of the Christians I have met from those places, remembering the sweet fellowship we share which cannot be separate by oceans, skin color, language, or cultural peculiarities.  Soccer unites the world like no other sport, (though such unity is but a dim reflection of that secured by the Christ of John 17).

8.    Soccer is more fun when watched in a group.  Bars and pubs everywhere draw great crowds for futbol cheers.  Christians can join together, too, to watch soccer.  While doing so, Christians join together with fellow believers all over the world.  Just imagine that in every country represented in the World Cup, there are Christian brothers and sisters.  Even in Iran, for instance, there are brothers and sisters in Christ.  Indeed, it might be a good reminder when we see those countries to pray for the believers who certainly are alive there.  They are often in grave danger from persecution.  Christians can be found in each of the 32 countries of the World Cup because Christ has purchased them from every nation, tribe, and tongue.

http://www.espnfc.us/fifa-world-cup/4/video/1870852/united-states-chances-at-the-world-cup

7.    The World Cup provides a very stiff level of competition, and competition is indicative of the reality of life in a fallen world.  Concentrating on the defense and the incredible power and precision necessary to break through it allows me to think of the manner in which Christ has broken through the most potent forces marshaled by the prince of the power of the air.  Competition and struggle are but dim reminders of the one Christ who has defeated all enemies—including sin and death—and is now waiting as they are becoming a footstool for His feet.

6.    The World Cup is not shy to pronounce a winner.  As in most sports, the goal is to be the champion.  The World Cup will not allow everyone to go home a winner.  There is but one trophy.  There will be one winner, and the other 31 teams go home losers.  The reason this is helpful to me is that it reminds me that Christ was tolerant in many ways that His fellow religious leaders were not, but, in the end, He made it plain that there is 1 way and 1 way only that leads to life (John 14:6).

5.    Related to the “1-way” post above is the reality of triumph.  As Christians, we tend to shy away from concepts of triumph, thinking that we ought not to gloat.  While it is certainly true that we must not gloat, it is also true that triumph itself is glorious.  Christ has triumphed over His enemies and made a public spectacle of them (Colossians 2:15).  I hope the U.S. triumphs over the competition in the 2014 World Cup.

4.    Related to triumph is glory.  One of the greatest lessons in all sports is the lesson of glory.  If sports is about anything, it is about glory.  While it Brazil World Cup Christian Glory Godmay be true that most of the athletes in the 2014 FIFA World Cup have their eyes fixed on a “perishable wreath,” nevertheless, glory abounds. There are so many stories of athletes like Julio Cesar (goalie for Brazil) who had to overcome injury, defeat, and rejection, but now seeks redemption and gives glory to God.  In truth, most of the FIFA athletes are pursuing glory, while more than a billion people are watching—hoping to see it.

3.    Related to glory is the suffering required to achieve it.  In Christ, the greatest suffering resulted in the highest glory.  The stories of agonizing workouts and overcoming both enemies and injuries reflect—even if only to a small extent—the glory of the triumphant Christ.  These World Cup athletes are suffering injury and ridicule in their pursuit of glory.  By the time the U.S. wins the World Cup (!), there will have been many trials suffered through and overcome.  Their perseverance will be exalted along with their skill.  No matter who wins, perseverance will prove to have been a key element of their glorious triumph.  And, again, this perseverance is what Christ calls us to and what He Himself modeled perfectly in overcoming sin, death, temptation.  According to Philippians 2, this perseverance ends with his being exalted to the highest place of Heaven.

2.    Related to suffering and perseverance is the constant reminder in soccer that we live in a fallen world.  So often, referees will get the calls wrong.  They are human, and they fail.  Unlike in other sports, soccer leaves these errors in as part of the game, and I am glad they do.  They are part of life.  If you can’t overcome the errors made by yourself and others, you won’t accomplish much in this fallen world.  In other words, FIFA allows injustice to be part of the game because it forces teams to overcome.  This is real world stuff.  Life does not offer us a “further review.”  Once a word is spoken or a deed is done, it cannot be overruled or undone.  Thankfully, it can be redeemed.

1.    And speaking of redemption, the number 1 way to watch the World Cup to the glory of God is to watch for the cross.  The cross makes soccer “the beautiful game,” as Pele was quick to call it.  I agree.  Soccer is a beautiful game.  A central aspect of that beauty is the cross, which causes one player to expose himself to the defense, then sacrifice his ability to score so that someone else receives the goal and the glory.  What could be more beautiful?  Christ drew the enemy to Himself, took all the venom and poison the enemy could muster, then, at the cross, he sacrificed Himself so that others might become partakers of His glory.  Not even soccer is more beautiful than the cross of Christ.  Soccer is the beautiful game, but Christ is the beautiful Savior whose light eclipses all the lesser glory of sports.

Watch a beautiful cross here:

Follow Me: A Simple So Difficult Command


Chaos usually ensues after our worship service concludes. It isn’t the chaos of a charismatic explosion, filled with dancing or laughing or strange verbal utterances. It isn’t chaos of any negative sort. Rather, it’s the delightful chaos of slightly uncontrolled children rushing around in search of candy, suckers, and places to run.

My children are at least as crazy as the others, probably much more so. As is the case with any form of chaos, so it is true with Children-chaos; there is an urgent need for order. I am glad to provide such an ordering for my children. I am their father. Ordering them is part of what I’m called to do.

Christ Command Follow MeSo yesterday after our services ended and the chaotic running routine had run its course, I called my youngest two sons out of the crowded horde of kids.  Kids were scurrying around like ants whose mound had been destroyed.  Out of the mass, I called my two sons and offered a simple, stern, and clear command of two little words: “Follow me.”  What happened next was both illustrative of individual personality and of ordinary Christian practice.

As personality goes, these two little people demonstrated much in the carrying out of my simple command. Both of the boys “sort of” obeyed dad’s directive. The older of the two always wants to be out front. He wants to know everything. He wants to do everything. He is naturally an “in-charge” kind of kid. He “obeyed” by first realizing that I was heading to our van. Then, he summarily stopped following and started leading. He ran out in front of me toward the van, confident of his leadership role, even though he had little knowledge of where the van was actually parked.

The younger is much less concerned to learn or know. He, being three, is concerned about being free and having fun. Little else—including obedience—is of much interest to him. Yet, he, too, “sort of” obeyed the command. He has learned through painful experience that it pays to honor dad’s commands, but he also has retained his strong-willed, free-spirited sense of autonomy. So, he obeyed by moving toward me in large, circular patterns, patterns which would allow him to make runs into his group of friends, take time to swing around a parking lot sign, and find a moment to skip or even climb a few steps. He meandered along a gigantic looping path that, technically, was in the direction I was headed and, thus, technically, followed my command.

My first thought upon seeing these semi-obedient sons was to get frustrated that they are unable to obey even the simplest of my commands. The second thought was to laugh at the fact that this one episode had exposed their personalities so clearly. The third thought was somewhat more profound.

I realized I was observing more than my semi-(dis)obedient sons. I was actually watching my own semi-(dis)obedient life behind my Savior’s simple command: Follow Me.  Repeatedly, our Lord commanded His followers—Follow Me. He said that if we were His sheep, we would hear His voice and obey it (John 10). He said that if we desired to serve Him, we must follow Him. We must leave the dead to bury the dead while we follow the creator and sustainer of life. We must recognize the broad way of destruction, while we follow our king through the narrow way of abundant life. We must follow Jesus as He makes us fishers of men.

And yet, we often follow like my younger son, in broad, meandering circles seeking worldly amusements to accompany faithful service. Countless Luke 9:62 Christ Command Obedience Discipleshipdistractions bend our otherwise obedient walk. When we take our eyes off Jesus, or when our love is not burning hotly toward Him, our circular path of distracted service grows larger with worldly influence and smaller with the clarity and focus of faithful obedience.

Even when our zeal burns hot, we are in danger of running ahead of the Lord, just as my older son ran ahead of me. And like that older son, we run ahead with confidence without content. We run like Paul said the Jews were running (Romans 10:1-3) with zeal, but not in accordance with knowledge. There is a fine line between self-confidence and bold faith. One is obedient; the other is not quite right.

So I realized from my little after-church adventure that I shared the folly I found in my own sons. My hoped-for correction is to fix my eyes on Jesus, the author and finisher of faith, laying aside more and more of the distractions and encumbrances which dilute my obedience.  My further hope is to keep in step with the Spirit, not running ahead in fleshly arrogance or vain confidence.

May the Lord grant us all to keep both hands on the plow to work the earthly row we’ve been given. Let us not look back, to the left or to the right. But straight ahead, fixed on Christ, the Resurrection and the life. Our Savior has called us from the chaotic crowd. Let us hear His voice and follow Him.

What Are Your Thoughts About the Future for Christians in America?


As usual, Wanda’s café was crowded during the lunch hour, so my student and I decided to head outdoors under the breezeway to enjoy our fresh-grilled meals, which, in my case, included a side order of crispy fries sprinkled with that patented bay seasoning lightly coating them, giving them a salty, spicy kick to accompany the ham and melted Swiss on ciabatta—Sorry! I digress…

WandasSign Conversation PersecutionAs we enjoyed our meals outside, in the cool of the shade, Jordan and I spoke—as best we could envision it—of the future of Christianity in America. Neither of us felt any hint of an Eeyore complex, where we lived under a cloud of gloomy expectations; yet we invariably returned again and again to the concept of Christian suffering. Regardless of where our topic began—he was asking me questions related to a research project he was conducting—we always came full circle back to the idea that the future of Christianity in the next half century would be markedly different from that of its recent past. The future of Christianity in America includes increased marginalization and, most likely, increased persecution.

This sentiment is one that is “felt” or “sensed” at the grassroots level in evangelical churches because Christians are feeling isolated and silenced at work.  However, it still is not fully on the radar of Christian academics. Increasingly, as a result of the Supreme Court DOMA decision last summer, academics are realizing that conflict over the sinfulness of homosexual behavior is on the horizon. Dr. Mohler made the point plainly this past week with his post, “No Third Way.” His message in that post was that churches will be forced to decide one way or the other on the acceptableness (or sinfulness) of homosexual practice. There will be no third way of holding firmly to the truth of Scripture while also keeping in step with the cultural norms of sexual practice.

Still, even with prominent evangelicals beginning to notice the clash ahead, I think that too few scholars are paying attention to persecution itself. I have presented a paper on the topic at the annual meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society (ETS) in the past. And, Lord willing, I may do so again this November. ETS is the largest annual gathering of evangelical scholars in the U.S. Even if my paper is accepted, it will represent only the slightest exposure in the overall scheme of Christian academic research.

At the ETS annual meeting, there will be about 700 papers presented. There will not be even 7 papers at ETS which discuss persecution in the New Testament. There will be dozens of papers discussing the biblical doctrine of inerrancy and authority (as there ought to be). There will be dozens more discussing the doctrine of ecclesiology (and rightly so). But there will also be a great many papers dealing with esoteric, navel-gazing topics which amount to nothing more than “straw,” as Thomas Aquinas put it.

Meanwhile, Meriam Ibrahim is likely to be killed in Sudan for maintaining her faith in Christ. Asia Bibi has been separated from her husband and children for 1,250 days, locked in a Pakistani prison with the death sentence hanging over her head. Christians in Eritrea are confined in metal cargo containers, being allowed so little room that they cannot even lie down for sleeping.  Christ’s sheep are being slaughtered by the wolves of the world, and we’re mired in conversations about how Christians might best care for whales.

–I’m not opposed to whale care. I love whales. I paid a hefty sum of money at Newport Beach so my family and I could see these massive creatures. They truly are an awesome feature in the splendor of God’s creation. They are living beings and, thus, warrant our proper stewardship of them. Yet, they are not people. They are not human beings created in the image of God, and, more importantly, they are not the threatened and oppressed church of God which was purchased by Him at the cost of His own blood!

I expect that more and more Christians in America will soon be wrestling with what it means to lose a job on account of Christian faith. More and more, we will be faced with needy Christians in our churches—Christian teachers who get fired because of Christian convictions. Christian churches that are smaller, poorer, and, likely, pastored by a bi-vocational minister.

We all need to be thinking and speaking soberly about what persecution means. Why does persecution happen to the righteous? Why do all of the China Christians persecutedNew Testament writers (with the possible exception of Jude) think that persecution is a topic which they need to address in their sacred writings? How should Christians respond to suffering on account of Christ? What do the blessings—which Jesus, Peter, John, and James reference—mean for those who suffer for the sake of righteousness? Christian scholars can help us answer these soon-to-be pertinent questions.

In the face of an ever-intensifying fury against Christ and His church, there is an urgent need for writing and thinking about persecution and pastoral ministry.  I think now is the time to focus on such work.

Christians are losing their freedoms at a record pace all over the world. They are on the verge of being extinct throughout the Middle East. And we all—I, too—have been guilty of a little too much whale-watching.  We need to focus more attention where Christ is intensely at work—caring for his abused Bride and suffering Body, loving His Church.

If Jordan and I had any foresight at all, then a new day for Christianity is rising quickly in the west. Fading like a distant dream is the vision of a moral majority. In its place is a moral—and persecuted—minority.  The future of Christianity will look less and less like the evangelicalism of 1994 and more and more like that found in Acts 14 and Hebrews 10 and 1 Corinthians 15 and Revelation 12.

“Do not be deceived. Anyone who desires to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3:12).

I’m curious. Do you agree with me and Jordan? Is there a growing sense of persecution increasing in the U.S.? Does this seem right to you?

Hell, Hate, and the Peril of Christian Witness


A few years ago, a friend of mine got in trouble. This time, my friend got in trouble for doing the right thing.

In solidarity with his union brothers, my friend was walking a picket line because the company he was working for had been taking advantage of employees. My friend was enjoying conversation with his colleagues talking about a number of items in the news, talking about the weather, about fishing, and traffic.

Death Life Christian Witness Card My friend cared for his colleagues, and so he explained to them the gospel. To make his explanation clear, he used a simple, two-sided tract called Life or Death. The tract was the size of a business card and had the word “Death” written in such an ornate and elaborate way that any calligrapher would have coveted the skill of its artist.

Death” was the beginning point—and the bad news. The card was designed in such a way that all my friend had to do was flip it around and the word which had looked like “Death” now appeared to say “Life.” From the simple flip from death to life, he shared the gospel message of John 3:16.

The workers hearing the gospel message gave it little merit. They held their tongues and kept their death, but not without recourse. They quietly filed a grievance with the union and filed charges against my friend for making “Death” threats against them.

At the time, I thought the entire affair was ludicrous. As it turns out, it was portentous, an ominous sign of things to come. Earlier this week, another

Baptist hate crime hell norfolk attleborough

Source: Steynonline

harbinger of hate crimes to come arose from Great Britain. Mark Steyn tells the story of one Robert Gladwin, a twenty-year old peace-loving, uber-tolerant Brit who simply could not tolerate the sign posted by the Attleborough Baptist Church.

The church sign featured an 8.5 x 11 color flyer with flames coming up from the bottom. The words of the sign read: “If you think there is no God, you’d better be right.” Death, judgment, and hell were not mentioned, but certainly implied. Steyn’s piece makes the excellent contrast between this rather benign flyer and the often seen (and protected) signs of Muslims in London: “Behead those who insult Islam.”

Still, the twenty year-old Gladwin was offended enough to report the crime to the police, who quickly launched a hate crimes investigation against the church. The pastor of the church, John Rose, removed the sign as a result of the investigation and replaced it (unfortunately) with a sign featuring the message “God loves you” with a meerkat saying “Simples” in a floating speech bubble overhead.

Christians must be clear on the gospel message as never before. Any number of issues—Hell perhaps preeminently—will become intolerable hate speech in the days to come. The simple message of eternal life in Christ for those who believe may easily be reinterpreted as a death threat by those who reject the Lord.

None of this is new, really. Christ told His followers from the beginning,

“Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves.”

A Simple Way to Share Your Faith


The hardest part of sharing the gospel (for me) is starting the conversation. Like most Christians, I love to talk about Jesus and the truth of the Scriptures, but it is hard to get the conversation going. So, I’ve tried to identify easy “connections” between the Bible and everyday life. One of the most natural connections to everyday life is found in John 3:16.

Share Christ Christian Evangelism Salvation PersecutionJohn 3:16 is a great place for starting gospel conversations because it is easily remembered. Most Christians memorize John 3:16 early in their Christian walk. More than a few pastors, scholars, and teachers have recognized how clearly the gospel is present in this simple verse:

“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

To begin with, John 3:16 gets immediately to the heart of the human problem: Perishing. From birth, we are perishing apart from the life-giving, resurrection power of Jesus Christ. This concept of perishing operates as a great connector from the mundane world of human existence to the heavenly glories of Christ and His kingdom. Here’s how to make that connection plain.

Have you ever heard your friends talk about their problems? Have you ever had family members dump their emotions on you, venting about their frustrations? Have you ever heard your colleagues bemoaning some injustice in the world? Yes, yes, yes! Of course, you have. Each of these experiences exists on account of the Fall of humankind from peace with God.

In other words, all problems are ultimately rooted in the singular problem of our being at odds with God: the Fall. Because of the Fall, we are all mired in sin, stuck in a web of deceit, sinfulness, and death. The problem, ultimately, is that we are perishing. We are in the darkness and hating the light because of our own evil deeds (John 3:19-20).  We are living as human beings in the world, but we are under the curse of death. That is our problem. We are perishing.

God’s provisionto remedy the curse and reconcile us to Himself, giving us life instead of death, is nothing less than Jesus Christ. God so loved…that He gave Christ to be a payment for our sins. The problem is that we are perishing under the curse. The Provision from God is Christ Himself, who came to satisfy the payment price for our sins and purchase for us the remedy for death.

The problem is that we are perishing in our sin under the curse of death. The provision is Christ who came to pay the price for us. And now there is a promisefrom God. The promise is eternal life. God so loved that He gave with the purpose and intent that whoever believes will NOT perish, but HAVE eternal life. Christ remedies the curse of death with the sure, purchased promise of eternal life in His name.

In this simple way, this one common verse is able to move you from a perennial problem (sin, death) to an eternal solution (eternal life in Jesus’s name). You are likely already familiar with John 3:16 so there is no need to get anxious about “what should I say” or “how should I start”? Just start with John 3:16 and cover the problem (perishing); God’s provision (Christ); and the promise of a new life (eternal life).  Problem, Provision, Promise. There’s the gospel from John 3:16. Now, let’s go share it!

Why Persecution Is a Social Justice Priority


Persecution Social JusticeBrooke Parks at Persecutionblog asks an excellent question: Is Christian Persecution a Social Justice Issue? I believe that it is. At least, I believe that persecution is a justice issue. Parks is correct to note the limits of social justice. Parks points out that the goal of ministry to the persecuted is not to remove inequality. The goal is not simply to make the persecution go away. The goal, according to Parks, is “for the church to be the body of Christ to them and with them.” I completely agree. From the New Testament perspective, “Being the body of Christ to them and with them” is primarily an action of justice.  Caring for the persecuted is a fundamental expression of biblical justice. Perhaps the term “social” can be abandoned, but the idea of justice cannot. And here is why.

In the Old Testament, God Himself proved to be the one who would always “execute justice” and “love” the strangers and aliens among Israel (Deuteronomy 10). The revelation of God as the source of justice and love was supposed to govern Israel. Israel was expected to be like God, executing justice in her own midst, making sure that the poor, the orphans, the widows, and the powerless were not forgotten.  In addition, Israel was supposed to show love to those who came into her midst from the nations around. In this way, Israel, like God, was supposed to model justice and love.

When the time came for Israel to adopt a king, the Lord gave specific instructions for the king: (1) That the king should first read, study, meditate upon, and obey carefully God’s law (Deut 17:18-20); (2) Then, second, that the king would execute justice and righteousness. This function of the king was on splendid display when the Queen of Sheba came to call upon Solomon. She proclaimed,

because the LORD loved Israel forever, therefore He made you king, to do justice and righteousness.” (1 Kings 10:9)

According to God, the king’s task was first to be just and, next, to execute laws of justice and righteousness for all of Israel.

When Christ came to establish His kingdom, He did so in righteousness. Christ was, of course, just. As He announced to John the Baptist, Christ also fulfilled all righteousness (Matthew 3:15).  Christ would later explain that basic discipleship—that is, a basic knowledge of what it means to follow Him—includes learning to be obedient to all His commands (Matthew 28:18-20, commonly called the Great Commission). Being obedient to Christ’s commands is essentially putting God’s justice and righteousness into action.

Christ came as a righteous king to establish God’s righteous kingdom. Consequently, Christ taught His followers that they must pursue righteousnessRighteousness Persecution and the kingdom as matters of first importance (Matthew 6:33).  Christ also taught His followers that their pursuit of justice/righteousness would lead them to be persecuted (see Matthew 5:10-12).

What all of this means is that to live the Christian life is to display God’s justice. Such a display will provoke persecution now just as it did when Christ and the Apostles ministered on earth. When Christ’s followers suffer persecution, they do so on account of righteousness (justice). They suffer for doing what is right in His name. It is His authority and His presence in His people which provokes the persecution.

So, in the New Testament, the first priority for social justice—that is, for feeding the poor, caring for widows, providing for orphans, and showing mercy to prisoners—is to minister to the persecuted and oppressed church. To use a common metaphor applied to the people of God in the New Testament, the first priority is to care for one’s own family—the family of God.

The idea of family first is evident in Paul’s instructions to Timothy regarding the care of widows:

But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.

Christians are to do good to all people, but, especially, we are to do good to those who are of the household of faith, according to the Apostle Paul (Galatians 6:10). Not surprisingly, the New Testament is replete with examples of Christians doing good for fellow saints who are suffering.

Most references in the New Testament concerning feeding the poor actually understand the poor to be persecuted and suffering Christians. The offering Paul took from the churches was collected to care for needy, suffering saints in Jerusalem (see 1 Cor 16:1-4, Rom. 15:25). Paul Himself was partly responsible for the persecution which put these saints in such a needy state (see Acts 9:1-13). Little wonder, then, that after his conversion he felt responsible for their care.

When Paul went before Peter, James, and John to validate his commission to preach to the Gentiles, they gave him the right hand of fellowship and encouraged him to continue caring for the poor believers as he had been doing in Jerusalem (see Galatians 2:1-10).[1] Likewise, the admonitions in the book of James concerning the poor also are references to the brother or sister among you, that is, to the poor and needy Christians.

Further, the care of widows and orphans—which is called by James a “pure and undefiled religion”—is care for widows and orphans in the household of faith. These issues—typically called issues of social justice—are primarily issues of Christians acting rightly toward fellow brothers and sisters of the faith. They are issues of justice within the household of faith.

When the New Testament speaks of visiting prisoners, it means that Christians are responsible to remember (Hebrews 13:3) and care for fellow Christians who have been thrown into prison on account of Christ (cf. Hebrews 10:34). In fact, Peter made sure the early church held to an important distinction in categorizing imprisonment:

Make sure that none of you suffers as a murderer, or thief, or evildoer, or a troublesome meddler; but if anyone suffers as a Christian, he is not to be ashamed, but is to glorify God in this name (1 Peter 4:15-16; cf. 1 Peter 3:17).

John love persecutionIn the New Testament, issues of justice begin with the household of faith. As the household of faith learns to love one another rightly and, thus, executes the justice of God rightly so that God’s righteousness is on display, the world begins to see what justice and love actually are like. The whole world begins to know that Jesus Christ is present because of the way the Church loves one another (John 13:35). In this way, the Church witnesses to the world of Christ’s love.

So, it is important that the church exercises “justice” in caring for the poor and suffering Christians. In this way, ministry to the persecuted is the first order of “social justice” business. Our love for one another is crucial to our witness before the watching world.

Brooke Parks’ question has to be answered affirmatively: “Yes!” Persecution ministry is the foremost and primary act of social justice. Parks answered the question negatively, but only with regard to the non-biblical idea that justice concerns equality. Parks is correct to say that the goal of persecution ministry is not to bring society back into some arbitrary notion of balance or equity.  Rather, the goal of persecution ministry is to display the righteousness of God in the face of world’s unrighteous desire to be rid of Christ by executing His people.

See also:

http://www.heritage.org/research/commentary/2014/5/christian-persecution-an-injustice-for-all

 

[1] For fuller discussion, see Thomas Schreiner, Galatians, in the Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, published by Zondervan.

Voice of the Martyrs Helps Two Nigerian Girls Escape


Voice of the Martyrs has helped to rescue two young women from captivity in Nigeria. You can read the full story below. More information is available on their website. I publish this story from Voice of the Martyrs here to get the word out and offer support for the care VOM is giving to the persecuted church.

Nigeria: Kidnapped Girls Escape
 

VOM is providing assistance to two sisters who recently escaped captivity from Boko Haram.

Two sisters, Kamka, 19, and Naya, 16, were sleeping when radical Muslims invaded their home. The armed terrorists entered their brother’s room and shot him in the hand before demanding to know where the girls’ father was. When they realized the two sisters were not married and their father was not home, they took the girls by force.

The Boko Haram terrorist group has declared war on Christians in Nigeria, frequently attacking Christian villages, burning Christians’ houses and murdering indiscriminately. They also kidnap teenage girls and force them to convert and marry Boko Haram members.

After forcing Kamka and Naya to walk through the woods at gunpoint, the terrorists immediately put them to work fetching water and cooking. A few days later, the girls were told that both of them were to be married. “We’re too young,” Naya protested. But the leader then showed them his daughter, a girl of 7 or 8, who was already married.

“If we refused to cooperate, we would be killed,” Naya told a VOM worker. “The man whom I was forced to marry took me. He picked up his gun and a knife and threatened to murder me if I continued to resist.”

The sisters cried and prayed together, unsure of what would become of them. But after two weeks, a Muslim woman took pity on them. While fetching water with the girls, she showed them an escape route and told them to run away.

The girls escaped under cover of darkness. They knocked on the door of the first house they came to, praying the owner would be friendly. Although he was Muslim, the man took pity on the girls. He allowed them to bathe and eat, and then had his sister take them to a nearby Christian village.

The girls were traumatized by their experience but are now doing reasonably well. Since it is unsafe for them to return to their home, VOM is providing care for them at a safe house through one of our project partners.

“I thank God that He has saved us from the hands of these bad people,” Naya said. “Everything is now behind me and I’m not afraid anymore. I only want to look forward now.”

And Kamka is also thankful for God’s protection. “I am very grateful that many Christians pray for me,” she said. “Despite what I’ve been through, I still have faith in God.”

The Voice of the Martyrs invites you to support our work in Nigeria. Your contributions help believers like Naya and Kamka as well as providing support to families of martyrs and medical assistance to victims of extremist attacks.

Make a Contribution to VOM’s Work in Nigeria

Please remember to pray for those kidnapped by Boko Haram and for all our brothers and sisters in Nigeria who are under attack. Share this e-mail with your Christian friends so they can join us in prayer.