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.

 

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

 

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.

Are Nigerian Christians Really Facing Persecution? Definitions.


In Nigeria, the situation is grim for Christians. In particular, Christians in the northern tier of Nigeria live in constant fear of bombings, execution, or torturous violence at the hands of Boko Haram, a militant Islamic terrorist organization.

Recently, President Goodluck Jonathan spoke against the violence but insisted that this violence was not Christian persecution, as Boko Haram kills Muslims, too. No doubt, the latter half of the statement is true, as the organization has admitted to killing Muslims on occasion. Their explanation sounds like the explanation often given when civilians are unexpectedly killed in battles. I think the term is “collateral damage.” (It is an awfully cold manner in which to describe any loss of human life.)

According to this report,

The Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) has refuted his assertion. Its spokesman Sunday Oibe responded: “Our attention has been drawn to a purported claim by President Goodluck Jonathan that the Boko Haram insurgents in the north have killed more Muslims than Christians and that it is not a religious issue.

“The purported statement by Mr. President is highly disappointing considering the fact that Christians and their churches and businesses have been the major targets of the Boko Haram terror group.

“We want to believe that the President was misquoted… If it is true that Mr. President actually made this assertion, then we are highly disappointed and sad at this veiled attempt to distort the facts as it concerns the activities of the Boko Haram sect.

CAN goes on to explain why, in their opinion, the violence is Christian persecution. In short summary form, here is the explanation:

“We say this because there has never been any bomb that has been exploded in any mosque or targeted at any mosque in the entire activities of the Boko Haram sect in the north. The Boko Haram members even said that when a Muslim is killed, it is by mistake”.

Christian Persecution Definition WorldWatch Monitor, a responsible news agency reporting on persecution around the world, has made a good case in agreement with CAN that the violence in northern Nigeria is, indeed, persecution. Their credible report also demonstrates the difficulty that exists in persecution studies with regard to definitions and the intermingling of politics and religion. (We need definitions).

The paradigm proposed by WorldWatch Monitor is to distinguish between Insidious persecution—which includes discrimination, harassment, and less volatile forms of oppression; and Elevated persecution, which would describe more violent (and even lethal) forms of persecution. WorldWatch Monitor then asserts that Christians in Nigeria are facing Elevated forms of persecution on a regular basis.

I am very thankful for the work of WorldWatch Monitor. They study the numbers seriously and avoid sensationalism in reporting Christian persecution. I do not wish to undermine anything they are doing, only to build further upon it.

In that spirit, I offer yet a further taxonomy of persecution study. Rather than violence being the beginning of the taxonomy, I suggest we make violence derivative of a more basic taxonomy. The first question when categorizing persecution by type is not whether it was violent vs. non-violent. Rather, the first question is whether the persecution is simplistic or systemic.

If it is simplistic, then it results from an individual or small group of friends, family, or colleagues acting in haste, committing an unplanned hostile response to agitation because of the presence of a Christian. If the persecution is systemic, then the hostility was planned and orchestrated at an institutional level—like the police, the military, the school system, the local government, or an organized militia like Boko Haram.

Whatever the “collateral damage” is in Nigeria, the reality is that Boko Haram is systemically opposed to Christianity and targets Christians for violence, execution, and church explosions. Like CAN, I suspect that Christians in Nigeria are victims of systemic persecution and need our prayers.

Around the World


A Devastating Question

Rod Dreier asks a devastating question to Christians: Why don’t you care about fellow Christians suffering in Syria?

“If you are a Christian, why don’t you care? And if you do care, have you spoken to your pastor, your friends, and most importantly, your Congressman and Senators, about it?”

Persecution globalHistoric Persecution?

In August, about 10% of Egypt’s Christian church buildings were attacked and burned in a mere 48 hours.  David Alton, remembering the holocaust of the Jews in Germany, calls this two-days of terror “Egypt’s Kristallnacht.
Christians Eradicated?

The situation in Syria is so bad for Christians that terms like eradication and ethnic cleansing are being used.

Most puzzling of all, though, is why the United States seems so determined to eradicate Christianity in one of its oldest heartlands, at such an agonizingly sensitive historical moment…

Around the world, scholars and intellectual leaders are debating how to commemorate the approaching centennial of that cataclysm [Armenian Genocide] in 2015. Through its utter lack of historical awareness, the United States government may be pushing towards not a commemoration of the genocide but a faithful re-enactment.

Nigeria: Most Dangerous Place for Christians

The militant Islamic terrorist group Boko Haram is still actively killing Christians in Nigeria. Though their activity has decreased since the government declared a state of emergency and unleashed an offensive attack to eradicate their terrorism, Boko Haram is still actively targeting Christians. This latest attack happened in Dorawa, Yobe [state], Nigeria. A pastor and his two children were killed when the church building was attacked and burned.

Syria (and Hebrews)

This story from Syria speaks of how Muslim leaders have issued a fatwa giving Muslims the right to confiscate the property of Christians in order to use that property to buy weapons.  Just as described in Hebrews 10, Christians are having their property confiscated by their local rulers.  Not much has changed for Christians since the first century.  The world is still fallen and under a curse.  The redemption of Christ is still unfolding.  And the followers of Christ are still suffering and groaning, awaiting with creation itself the full redemptive purposes of God.  Christians in Syria and Nigeria have need of endurance, and I think we would serve them well by praying for them in accordance with Hebrews 10:32-39,

32 But remember the former days, when, after being enlightened, you endured a great conflict of sufferings, 33 partly by being made a public spectacle through reproaches and tribulations, and partly by becoming sharers with those who were so treated. 34 For you showed sympathy to the prisoners and accepted joyfully the seizure of your property,knowing that you have for yourselves a better possession and a lasting one. 35 Therefore, do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. 36 For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God,you may receive what was promised.

37 FOR YET IN A VERY LITTLE WHILE, HE WHO IS COMING WILL COME, AND WILL NOT DELAY.

38 BUT MY RIGHTEOUS ONE SHALL LIVE BY FAITH; AND IF HE SHRINKS BACK, MY SOUL HAS NO PLEASURE IN HIM.

39 But we are not of those who shrink back to destruction, but of those who have faith to the preserving of the soul.

 

 

 

Why Church Fires Cannot Destroy Christ’s Church


I own a coffee roaster and a small coffee roasting business. The secret to roasting great coffee is controlling the flame.  The Coffee Roaster Fire Flamesroaster uses real fire to heat a turning and churning stainless steel drum. As the drum turns and churns the coffee beans, the heat from the flames begins to warm the beans; then it begins to steal the moisture from the beans; then it begins to roast the beans; until, finally, the beans crack, bursting from the pressure of the heat-induced roasting.

In a similar manner, the Enemy appears to have a strategy: attack the children of God with fire until they crack under the pressure of the heat.  All the world over, the old Defrauder and his minions set fire to church buildings hoping to cause us Christians to crack, to break apart.  But God always has His hands near the flames, saying to His people:

The flame shall not hurt you, I only design

Thy dross to consume, and thy gold to refine.

Christian churches are burning somewhere in the world every single day. Last year, there was a slate of church burnings in Ethiopia.  This year, Nigeria is, literally, a hot spot, as Boko Haram is seeking to do the Devil’s bidding by ridding the landscape of its Christian presence.   Even here in America, evil has its minions working against the church.  Did you know that two dozen or more churches may be burned in America in any given month?

Over the past month or so, fires have been set intentionally at churches in Massachusetts; in Lufkin, Texas; in Savannah, Georgia; and in Potomac Heights, Maryland.  The strategy is tried in America just as in the rest of the world, and the result is the same.  God uses the flames as a master roaster uses his flame to bring forth a glorious new reality that would not have happened without the heat.

Here is the glorious reality of God’s design for the devil’s flame: It strengthens the church.  And here is how that happens.  Think of it this way.  There is a fire that destroys and a fire that inspires.  The fire that inspires is more glorious, more powerful, and more all-consuming than any fire the enemy can muster. In a sense, his little fires are cheap imitations of the ultimate reality spoken of in Hebrews 12:29, “Our God is a consuming fire.”

The enemy can only cheaply imitate and threaten with that which is not at all glorious. He burns our buildings, but God Himself fires our souls.  God’s fire is the one which lasts.  This is why when church buildings are burned, the building is destroyed yet the church is strengthened, edified, built up in love, and more sober-minded than before.  The church need not fear an enemy with a candle when she is already pursuing the fire that fuels a thousand suns.

The Muslim Persecution of Christians Continues Unhindered


The targeted killing of Christians continues in Nigeria. As we have seen before, Boko Haram is well financed and likely well connected. They are continuing to carry out attacks on a routine basis.

This past week, they attacked St. Rita Church in Kaduna state by driving an SUV loaded with explosives through a wall of the church and into the church building itself. In theChristian Persecution past, the bombs were detonated outside the buildings in parking areas. This attack is an ominous indicator that these Jihadists are growing stronger, more sophisticated, and more diabolical.

Christians are sheep in the midst of wolves in Nigeria. Of course, this has been a common theme of Christianity from its inception. Though Christians understand the cost of discipleship, we also understand the pain, the grief, and the fear which accompanies these targeted murders against friends and family.

Sadly, Nigeria is not alone in this suffering. Christians throughout the Middle East are suffering horrendous tortures. Benjamin Weinthal has a nice post chronicling some of these atrocities at National Review. He rightly concludes,

The Islamic world is immersed in an epidemic of persecution against Christians.

Apologists for Islam and mind-numbed peaceniks will scoff and turn a dubious brow toward such bald statements as these; but the truth could not be more plain for the world to see. Muslims are persecuting Christians at an alarming rate around the world.

What will we do?

 

Christianity Is Not Safe


 

Just this week, Christians—including women and children—have been killed in Nigeria on account of Christ.  In all, more than 600 Christians have been killed this year.  Perhaps nowhere on earth is more dangerous for Christians right now than northern Nigeria. Christianity is not safe in Nigeria

Emboldened by a Muslim plurality in the north, Boko Haram—a Muslim terrorist group—is waging war against Nigeria Map Persecution ChristiansChristians, hoping to force Christians to flee their home, thereby separating Nigeria into a Northern Nigeria and a Southern Nigeria (such as happened recently with Sudan).  Will Nigeria remain a unified country? Not if Muslim terrorists have their way.

Recently, I spoke with a missionary friend who conducted pastor training in Nigeria this year. The story he told was horrific. He was not prepared for what he saw.

At the worship service he attended, my missionary friend was surprised by a video that the Nigerian pastor played for his congregation. It was a video of a fellow Nigerian pastor being beheaded. It showed every gruesome step of the process of Muslim terrorists cutting off this brother’s head and his hands, placing them on his back, then carrying him off as refuse.

My friend was not prepared for the hideous scene. The Nigerian pastor leading the worship service felt it was important to be sober-minded about the cost of Christian discipleship. He wanted his congregation to remain aware of the danger of being called by the name of Christ.

I’m not sure I would show a video like that to my congregation, but I am not sure it is wrong to do so either. What I do know (though not as well as my Nigerian brothers) is that Christ taught from the beginning that some would want to kill Christians just as they ended up killing our Lord Himself. Christ’s promises are often as sobering as the Muslim snuff film. Take Luke 21:16-19, for example:

But you will be betrayed even by parents and brothers and relatives and friends, and they will put some of you to death, 17and you will be hated by all because of My name. 18“Yet not a hair of your head will perish.19“By your endurance you will gain your lives.

The gospel now—as from the beginning—is a matter of life and death for Christians in Nigeria. Let us all be as Peter commanded us, sober-minded.

Therefore, prepare your minds for action, keep sober in spirit, fix your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ (1 Peter 1:13, NASB).

 

Is the Nigerian Government Now Persecuting Christians?


Has the Nigerian government gone bad? According to a news report, officials in the Nigerian government have been arrested and are being questioned in relation to the killing of Christians in Kogi state, Nigeria.

I am reminded of 1 Samuel 22 and the story of Saul turning against Ahimelech  and the priests because they had offered bread and a sword to David. You might remember the traitor Doeg the Edomite, who on Saul’s command killed 85 priests.

That story details how sin had torn apart Saul’s kingdom and ended up making the king himself turn against God.  The king was supposed to uphold God’s laws for all. Instead, he was the one ordering others to break the law and kill the priests of God.

Sadly, not everything has changed over the last 3,000 years. Like Saul, many governments are infected with sin and have turned against God.  Is this the case in Nigeria?

Questions are being raised in Nigeria because of the recent arrest of 5 government officials, including the arrest ofChristian Persecution Nigeria Muhammad Katsina, a special advisor to the governor in Kogi State.

On August 6, gunmen cut the electricity to Deeper Life Church, then opened fire on those worshiping.  In all, 19 Christians were murdered, including the pastor of the church.

The killings in Kogi state remind us that we cannot afford to trust in earthly powers.

Though government is designed by God to restrain evil, often, governments defy God. It is too early to tell whether or not officials in the Nigerian government are responsible for killing Christians in Nigeria, but it is clear that Christians must ultimately rely on Christ alone.