Is Phil Robertson of Duck Dynasty Suffering Christian Persecution?


Ian Bayne, a GOP candidate running for election in Illinois’s 11th District, sent an email to his supporters recently claiming that Duck Dynasty star Phil Robertson is taking a stand against religious persecution in the same way that Rosa Parks took a seat against racial persecution in December of 1955. I have been trying to decide whether I believe Phil Robertson is suffering persecution on account of his identity in Christ.

Persecution USA I must admit that though I am a Christian, I am not much of a fan of Duck Dynasty.  I live in California now, but Louisiana is my home state. My mother, in fact, lives in the same city which the Robertsons call home.  Yet, I have tried to watch Duck Dynasty, and I just don’t enjoy it.  Swamp People—I love that show!  I identify with those folks. They remind me of my friends and relatives. They represent a little bit of the life I lived growing up in Louisiana. I do not as easily identify with the Robertsons.

But that doesn’t really matter because the issue is not whether I like or dislike the Robertsons. The question is whether or not Phil is suffering on account of the righteousness of Christ.  If he is, then I owe him my prayers, support, and honor on account of Christ.  If not, well, then I owe him nothing and will simply be able to explain to folks why his case is not Christian persecution.

Before being able to answer the question, I think we must first be able to define persecution.  I wrote recently about the need for definitions when it comes to important biblical concepts like persecution. Phil Robertson’s case reaffirms why it’s so important for Christians to understand persecution. Phil’s case, I fear, is only the beginning.

I work from a definition of persecution derived from Jesus’s teaching in Matthew’s gospel.  From Matthew 5, I conclude:Christian persecution definition

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

Christ promises always to be present with His people. Christ’s people, from the beginning of our faith, learn the goodness of obeying Jesus. By our obedient actions and, further, by our speaking of Christ and His works, we Christians become targets for persecution. As we obey and proclaim, we necessarily display the righteousness of Christ.  Many people today will be every bit as hostile against Christ and His teaching as they were against the first followers of our Lord 2,000 years ago.

Just as the world hated, mocked, and abandoned Jesus then, so, now, people will hate, mock, and forsake Jesus (and His followers).

The question, then, in Phil Robertson’s case is simply this: Is his suffering related to the righteousness of Christ? Is his suffering on account of Christ?

On the one hand, some of Phil’s statements were crude and definitely not representative of Christ. Christians are taught to avoid coarse talk (Eph 5:4). Phil’s language—by admission of his own family in their public statement—was a bit raw. Christians can’t be offensive and then claim, when called out for their offense, that they are suffering persecution.  Persecution can only be a blessing if it occurs on account of Christ (and His righteousness). The Apostle Peter instructed Christians to make sure their suffering happens on account of doing what is right, not suffering for doing wrong (1 Peter 3:17). Phil could be suffering the consequences of wrong or foolish behavior.

And yet, as Denny Burk pointed out, the network was not offended by the language Roberston used. Clearly, A & E was offended by Robertson’s “personal beliefs.” Most assuredly, the personal beliefs in question were those related to the sinfulness of homosexuality. Robertson—however crudely—spoke the truth from the Scriptures. He rightly affirmed from the Scriptures his belief that homosexuality is a sin.  More than merely personal beliefs, Robertson’s statement reflects biblical truth. The truth which Robertson believes now has him off the air. He is suffering the loss of a television show on account of biblical truth, and that kind of suffering, in my opinion, is Christian persecution.

As always, others are free to disagree and offer their own reasons for their disagreement. But I think I side with Ian Bayne. Phil Robertson is suffering persecution.

Stop Chronological Snobbery


The lure of chronological snobbery is an almost invincible force which overwhelms us all. Each of us hopes to excel our own pasts and, thus, to excel the generations which gave us birth. So, it is understandable that we are tempted by chronological snobbery.  As a term, chronological snobbery was first utilized by C. S. Lewis in Surprised by Joy.[1] In that work, Lewis described how he had been guilty of making fallacious arguments as a result of his own chronological snobbery:

 

…”chronological snobbery,” [is] the uncritical acceptance of the intellectual climate common to our own age and the assumption that whatever has gone out of date is on that account discredited. You must find why it went out of date. Was it ever refuted (and if so by whom, where, and how conclusively) or did it merely die away as fashions do? If the latter, this tells us nothing about its truth or falsehood. From seeing this, one passes to the realization that our own age is also “a period,” and certainly has, like all periods, its own characteristic illusions. They are likeliest to lurk in those widespread assumptions which are so ingrained in the age that no one dares to attack or feels it necessary to defend them.”

Chronological SnobberyThe 20th Century was birthed in chronological snobbery, as the Industrial Revolution of the 19th Century brought unparalleled prosperity to the western world, making it possible to be affluent and comfortable without necessarily being moral. Progress was the century’s theme, and progress meant affluence. In other words, economy trumped morality. The old vestiges of Christian virtue were discarded as out of fashion. In the same manner that we threw out bell-bottom jeans in the 1980’s, so, too, Americans threw out chastity in the 20th Century. Now, our chronological snobbery declares that the prudish sensibilities of our sexual past are forever positively usurped.

But notice the two-part definition from C.S. Lewis. In the first part, he mentions that old truths are dismissed as out of date. In the second, he notes that in the place of the old, a new set of “widespread assumptions” arise which are never even questioned. So, the common sense of our age has dismissed the old and blindly adopted the new.  We mock a “puritanical sexual morality,” while, at the same time, we applaud the supposed right of women to kill unwanted babies in the womb. Our chronological snobbery blinds us to the gruesome reality of our own age and robs us of truth which lies embedded in the wisdom of ages past.

As an antidote to the mind-numbing effects of chronological snobbery, the Bible encourages two alarmingly sober lessons. First, the Bible is plain that what has happened in the past is supposed to be remembered for our instruction. Paul says this very thing to the church at Corinth (1 Cor 10:11), urging them to learn from Israel’s mistakes:

Now these things happened to them as an example, and they were written for our instruction, upon whom the ends of the ages have come.  

The Bible is clear that past generations made mistakes. In that way, the Bible sounds faintly similar to a central concept of chronological snobbery. But the similarity ends there, for the Bible assumes further that the present generation is every bit as capable of making the same mistake as the prior generation. Thus, the present generation is always in need of learning from the mistakes of the prior generation. Otherwise, as George Santayana said, ““Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”[2] Learn from the past so that you do not repeat the mistakes from it. This is the first biblical antidote to chronological snobbery.

The second biblical antidote to chronological snobbery is much simpler and, thus, even more profound: Don’t think too highly of yourself.  Paul says in Romans 12:3, “For through the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith.” 

The reason we must be taught this is that we all tend to hold ourselves in high esteem, while holding others in contempt. We all think more highly of ourselves than we ought to think. This principle applies to each person in particular, as well as to humankind in general. Because such thinking is inherent in every person, it is also indicative of all of us. All of us are prone to think that we are advanced and enlightened in ways unfamiliar to the past. But it really is not so. The writer of Ecclesiastes got it right when he said (more than 25 centuries ago) that there is nothing new under the sun. Human nature has not changed.

Let us learn from the past in humility, realizing that the very mistakes which tripped up our predecessors are the same mistakes which threaten us. Let us also in humility humble ourselves, esteeming others as more honorable than ourselves. This means we esteem Augustine, Luther, Calvin, Owen, Bunyan, Edwards, and Spurgeon, as though they were actually more intelligent than we (which they were). They each made mistakes from which we can learn, but such learning should be humble and should correct us, conforming our thoughts more to the thoughts of Christ.

Rather than falling prey to Chronological Snobbery, we can learn from the past and be humble. These are the two simple, biblical strategies necessary to combat the error of Chronological Snobbery.


[1] C. S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy, pp. 207-208.

[2] George Santayana, The Life of Reason.

 

Christ the Head of a Persecuted Church


Upon incurring trauma or injury, the human body unleashes a dizzying array of processes and chemical reactions for the purpose of sustaining life.  Endowed with wisdom from God, our bodies are actually much smarter than we who inhabit them.

Christ head of church persecution bodyWhen trauma strikes, our bodies unleash 1,500 chemical processes. In such trauma, our bodies produce Adrenaline so we have a rush of energy necessary to fight—or to flee.  Our blood sugar spikes, sending necessary nutriment to our brains and muscles. Blood Pressure also increases, as our bodies take blood away from our extremities (fingers, toes) and shoots more blood to vital organs, to the brain, and to our muscles. Blood which moves through the body is filled with excess platelet production so that bleeding can be stopped. Endorphin is directed toward the brain and the injury so that pain is reduced.

And portions of the brain are stimulated so that the body can think through the trauma and remember it afterward. The human body is, just as Robert C. Peale once called it, “the best and most efficient pharmacy.”  What a miracle of complexity it is, united by its mission of sustaining human life!

All this complexity in the human body is directed by the body’s head. The head is intimately connected to the body and directs its course. Such direction and intimate connection is made unmistakably clear when the body undergoes attack or injury.

The physical body is used in Scripture as a metaphor for the Church—called the body of Christ (Ephesians 1, 1 Corinthians 12, Hebrews 13, etc).  In Ephesians 1:22-23, Christ is the head, and the Church is the body. Think about what that means related to the persecution of Christians. As the head kicks-in to hyper-drive during trauma to the physical body, so, too, it seems, that Christ—the head of the Church—is intensely concerned to care for His spiritual body which suffers under the assault of persecution.

Christ promised His early followers that they would face persecution on account of Him (Matthew 5:10-12), and He left them with the promise that He would always remain present with them (Matthew 28:20).  Christ stood to welcome Stephen when he became the first martyr after Him (Acts 7). And Christ was intensely concerned when Saul of Tarsus was persecuting Him (Acts 9).

Everything in the New Testament attests to the intense concern Christ (the head) has for His suffering body.  The picture in Revelation 6 is one in which the martyrs cry out for Christ to avenge His wrath on those who killed His people. The reply they receive is that Christ—and the end of history—awaits only the full number of martyred saints to be complete (Rev 6:11). And then he will avenge.

To miss the point that Christ is intensely concerned for the persecuted church is to miss a significant piece of the New Testament gospel. Don’t miss the gospel. Don’t miss the priority Christ—the head—has placed on His body—the church. Christ is intensely concerned for the persecuted; thus, we are, too.

 

Preaching and Persecution Simply Explained


As noted in the first part of this article, Christ taught His original followers that persecution would continue on account of Him (Mat 5:10-12).  We have seen that the presence of Christ provokes persecution now just as it did when Christ walked the streets of Jerusalem (and was eventually nailed to a cross). What we shall consider further in this article is what the presence of Christ means.

Preaching persecution Christ KingdomAt minimum, the presence of Christ means that Christ is present with His people in the fullness of His identity. He is not present as we want Him to be. He is present as the true person He is. Christ exists as the Son of God without reference to our preferences. He is who He is. He will not be someone He is not.

Returning to Matthew, we see that Christ is present in the gospel as Himself—namely, as the king of heaven and earth. In preparing their readers for studying Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount, well-respected New Testament Scholars Davies and Allison explain it this way:

   Before Jesus utters his commands, the reader has been informed—by OT prophecy, by John the Baptist, by God, and by the devil—who he is: the Messiah, the Son of David, the Son of God . . . .  This Jesus, therefore, by virtue of his identity, must speak with authority and make sovereign demands.  The obligation to obey the commands of Mt 5-7 is grounded in Christology, in the person of Jesus.  Matthew sets up his gospel so that one may first recognize Jesus’ unique status and then heed his commandments.[1]

Jesus is King of heaven and earth (Matthew 28:18-20). So, when we say that Jesus is present in the church, we say that the sovereign Jesus is present with claims of kingdom authority and demands for obedience.

The Gospel of Matthew ends with Jesus saying that all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Him. No one overrules Jesus Christ. And, in fact, Jesus gives His followers the commission to make disciples of all peoples, and part of the disciple-making process is teaching people to obey everything Jesus has commanded (Matthew 28:18-20). Such authority means that Jesus is king.

True to being a king in the God-intended sense (see Deuteronomy 17), Jesus established the righteousness of God on earth. Jesus the King still demands all men everywhere uphold the righteousness of God.  So, where Jesus is present, there is also a demand to uphold the righteousness of God. It isn’t simply a demand to obey; it is a demand to obey which is backed with authority from God.

Indeed, this startling dynamic is the thing which surprised people in Jesus’s day. At the conclusion of the Sermon on the Mount, the people were amazed that Jesus spoke with such authority, rather than speaking as merely “a good teacher” (Matthew 7:28-30).

The presence of Jesus is the presence of a sovereign king making sovereign demands. His is not the presence of merely a good moral teacher. When preachers preach Christ, they present before their hearers a king making sovereign demands with implications for eternity. The stakes could not be higher, and the claims could not be greater.

The point is that Christ has come as a king establishing the righteousness of God. There is no other Christ. Such a Christ is offensive to fleshly indulgence. He sounds restrictive, audacious, and even oppressive. His claims of eternal reward or damnation—all or nothing depending on relation to Him—are simply unbearable apart from faith. On occasion, the weight of the matter will so overwhelm the unbeliever that he will seek to silence the man or woman who carries the message. That is preaching and persecution simply explained.


 

[1]Davies and Allison, Matthew: A Shorter Commentary, 64.

More Persecution in America


I was very encouraged at the recent California Southern Baptist Convention to hear pastors address the reality of Christian persecution in their sermons.  Both Kevin Hsu and Mike Nolen mentioned the reality of persecution for Americans who obey Jesus Christ.  As I have noted many times before, persecution is a concern for American Christians as much as it is for Christians in other parts of the world.

PersecutionUSAWhile it may be true that Christians in Nigeria, Iran, Syria, and Saudi Arabia face a degree of persecution not expected in the USA, it is not the case that persecution belongs only to Christians who live “over there,” in Muslim countries or in violent, “non-civilized” places.  Persecution belongs to all Christians.  Paul makes plain that all who desire godliness in Christ will be persecuted (2 Tim 3:12).  The question is not whether Christians will face persecution in America; rather, the question is to what degree will Christians face persecution.

As it turns out, Christians face persecution to a fairly harsh degree, even in America; it simply never gets reported as persecution.  Unfortunately, even Christians are often unaware of persecution happening in the USA.  A few years ago, two street preachers in Florida were shot at point-blank range a few minutes after witnessing to Jeriah Woody.  Tite Sufra and William Ocean were killed by then 18 year-old Jeriah Woody. (Woody was arrested, but I am not sure whether he has been convicted).

More recently, just this past Sunday, Rev. Norman Hayes at Bridge Community Church in North Hampton, OH, was severely beaten following his sermon.  James Maxie, a 28 year-old man who describes himself as a militant atheist, has been arrested in the assault.  According to reports, Maxie became irate when Rev. Hayes began asking Maxie’s girlfriend about her safety.  Rev. Hayes had been counseling the two prior to this event.

It seems clear (from the limited facts reported so far) that Rev. Hayes was attempting to maintain righteousness, while preaching, teaching, and counseling with redemptive love in view.  Additionally, early reports also indicate that Hayes has attempted to bless Maxie, rather than curse him.  The Dayton Daily News reports that Hayes feared for his life during the beating, yet he is still holding out hope that Maxie might find the peace of Christ.

If  a news agency reported two street preachers being killed in Pakistan, or a pastor being beaten after his Sunday sermon in Nigeria, then people would immediately place such hostility in the category of Christian persecution—and rightly so.  I think it’s time we do the same for our brothers and sisters in the USA.  No one doubts the degree of persecution in Nigeria and other places is more severe than it is in the USA.  Nevertheless, persecution is of the same kind here as elsewhere.

My two fellow preachers at the California SBC meeting were correct to note that persecution is on the rise in the USA.  Christians in the USA need to understand the reality that Christ will not be any more welcome today than he was in his own day.  If they hated him then, they will hate you now (John 15).  Neither the resurrected Christ nor the fallen world has changed.  It’s time for American Christians to understand.

Which Church to Choose?


My family and I are adjusting to living in the population-dense city of Corona, CA.  While Corona is not as populated as its neighboring Orange County or Los Angeles County residences, it is substantially more peopled than our prior residence in Bullitt County, Kentucky.  There, we could not hit our neighbor’s house by throwing a rock. Here, we must be careful to turn from our neighbors when we sneeze.

Church Holy Spirit Word God Christ

Church Holy Spirit Word God Christ

At any rate, we have been fascinated to watch how Christians have responded to booming populations. In Corona, there are about 4,000 people per square mile. And there are about 2.5 churches per square mile. Driving home from our wonderful new church (FBC Norco), my wife and I noticed several church plants. In fact, there were two church plants in a single commercial distribution facility. We passed them both and noticed their names. As a kind of thought experiment, I asked my wife which of the two she would prefer.

Think about which church you would choose. The first church we came across in this industrial/commercial complex was called “Led by the Holy Spirit Worship Center.”  Clearly, they desire to fulfill the spirit of Galatians 5:25, “If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.”

The second church advertised itself as “The Word of Truth Gospel Church.” Clearly, this congregation hopes to keep in step with the spirit of Jesus’s own prayer to the Father in John 17:17, “Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth.” So, which church would you choose: The one led by the Holy Spirit or the Word of Truth?

My savvy wife ended up turning the question back on me. So, here is my short reply (and admittedly a reply ignorant of any knowledge about either church beyond its name). Given only the names, I would lead my family to the “Word of Truth” church over the “led by the Holy Spirit” church. The reason is simple: One church stands or falls on experience, while the other stands or falls on an eternal, unchanging word.

I am very much in favor of being led by the Holy Spirit—without the Spirit there would be no new birth (Jn 3) and no helper to call to our minds the Word of Christ (Jn 14:26). Without the Spirit, our prayers would be impossible, for He intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words, and He reminds us that we are children of God and are thus able to cry out to our Father in heaven (Rom 8:12-27).  The Holy Spirit empowers us to love and to good works. We cannot live the Christian life apart from the Spirit.

Nevertheless, the foundation for our faith is not the Spirit but the Word—the living Word of God who put on skin and came to live on the earth in the midst of a crooked and perverse, sin-filled people. The living Word of God in the person of Christ is the foundation of our faith. Christ is the eternal Word, whose work has wrought our salvation.  The Holy Spirit applies, empowers, and recalls to us the work of Christ. Christ is foundational–the author of our faith.

This distinction is slightly forced because both Christ and the Holy Spirit are one unity with the Father (the Trinity). Nothing I have said should be taken to imply division between Christ and the Spirit. But it is necessary for us to keep Christ first, for some in the name of the Spirit act as though the Spirit has the right to overrule the Word.  They allow experience to trump the Word.

For example, I spoke with a man who believed he should divorce his wife because she wasn’t as spiritually mature as he was. He believed the Spirit was leading him to get a divorce (his third). Another woman I know thought the Spirit was leading her to an adulterous affair. After all, God wants us to be happy, right? In both cases, experiences (and fleshly desires) were running roughshod over the clear teaching of the Scripture.  The Word of God forbids such behavior (Matthew 19:1-11).

So, my conclusion is, first, to say that we ought not separate the Trinity!  We need both Spirit and Word. But if you are forced to choose a Spirit church over a Word church, stick with the Word.  The eternal Word of God will correct your fleshly appetites and guide you in the way of salvation.  Your experiences need God’s interpretive guide—that occurs when you are led by Christ’s words, obeying all that He commands you.

 

Persecution and the Power of Christ’s Presence


You might remember the old western show Rawhide. Featuring the stalwart character of trail boss Gil Favor, this classic TV series launched the career of Clint Eastwood, who starred in the series as the upstart cowhand Rowdy Yates.

In one episode, “Incident with an Executioner,” the crew is bedeviled by the presence of a black rider who, apparently, is Rawhide presence executionerseeking justice. Because of the mere presence of an executioner, everyone in the camp begins to feel both guilty and quite nervous. What if he is there for them? The presence of this black rider is more powerful than the presence of any other person on the trail because this rider represents both a judge and an executioner.

You’ll have to watch Rawhide to see how the episode ends. For my part, I mention the episode to demonstrate the power of presence.  One person literally enslaved an entire crew of cowboys.  A more positive illustration could be made by pointing out how much different your job would look today if the governor were to be present. What if the President were to make a stop? Everything from the traffic to the telephones would be put on hold to make way for the presence of this powerful figure.

The power of presence is on display in snakes, too. A nice retreat might be ruined by the mere presence of a single, sinister, slithering reptile.  The weight of presence could be referred to as “glory.”  The glory of the President of the United States is much greater than any single person who holds the office. Even people who are his political enemies know instinctively to show reverence in his presence. In England, when the Queen enters, all must stand; men must bow (at the neck); and women must curtsy.

One would think with all this worked-out etiquette for royalty that we humans might also have worked out a proper manner in which to respond to the presence of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. The King of Kings. And yet, the truth is, the presence of Christ is met today—as it was in the first century—with both worship (John 20:28) and sneers (Luke 23:35). The presence of the Son of God begets mocking (Luke 23:36); accusations of insanity (John 10:19-20); imprisonment (Mark 15:6); torture(Matthew 27:26); and death (Mark 15:33ff).

Apparently, there is no consensus on how to behave in Christ’s presence. What is clear, however, is that no one is neutral in the presence of Christ. And where is Christ present today?  According to the New Testament, Christ is always present with His Bride, the church. Repeatedly, the New Testament affirms that Christ is present with His people forever (Matthew 18:20; Matthew 28:20; Acts 9:3-6; Acts 18:10; and Hebrews 13:5).

His presence with His people is nowhere more evident than it is in persecution. Persecution happens because Christ is present (see Matthew 5:10-12).  So, on the one hand, the presence of Christ provokes persecution, while, on the other hand, the persecution it provokes becomes a blessing to the persecuted because it is a sure sign that Christ is alive in them.

It is the power of Christ’s presence which provokes Christian persecution.  The presence of Christ is actually the root provocateur of persecution. Thus, now, just as in Christ’s day, there will be times when His presence causes people to think that we are crazy (Mark 3:21); unconcerned (Mark 4:38); or even  demonic (Mark 3:22). When the presence of Christ in us provokes people to make insults or false accusations, we are blessed. The provocation is not (and must not be) our own offensiveness; it must be none other than Christ Himself. When it is Christ in us who provokes others to insult us, we should rejoice and be glad.  The turmoil is actually the result of Immanuel, “God with us.” Christ causes people to believe, but He also provokes others to persecute. His presence is still powerful.

Matthew 5:11-12,

11 “Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

 

An Easter Perspective


Beyond the hollow bunnies and plastic grass, Easter is a celebration of victorious life in the resurrected Christ. Today is a Easter Rabbit Good Fridayholy day in the life of the Christian. This Friday which we too casually call “Good” is a day of remembering the atoning work of Christ on behalf of our sinful souls.

It is also a day to remember that the Christ who was opposed, arrested, beaten, mocked, spat upon, cursed, and eventually killed some 2,000 years ago yet lives and remains present with His people. Just as the Lord was persecuted when His physical visage blessed the earth, so, too, does His body still suffer persecution at the hands of unbelief.

Last year on Easter Sunday, Boko Haram—Muslim extremists in Nigeria—killed 39 Christians while they were worshiping the risen Lord Jesus.  This year, there will perhaps be other Christians targeted for murder.  Nina Shea has posted a warning from a Muslim terrorist group in Tanzania, indicating that this Easter could see more Christian persecution:

 

We thank our young men, trained in Somalia, for killing an infidel. Many more will die. We will burn homes and churches. We have not finished: at Easter, be prepared for disaster.

 

Please remember both Christ and His body this Easter season. Be sober-minded about eternity and ever joyful about the victory that is ours through the Resurrected Lord.

 “Death is swallowed up in victory. 55 O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” 56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law;57 but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.  1 Corinthians 15

Bob Fu, China Aid, and Our Faithful God


National emblem of the People's Republic of China Christian persecution

Humble yourself under the mighty hand of God, and He will exalt you at the proper time—so says the Apostle Peter (1 Peter 5:6). 

And time has proved the Scriptures true over and over again. One of the most recent cases is that of Bob Fu, founder of China Aid.  The scope of China Aid more than tripled last year (2012), yet Bob Fu has been advocating on behalf of the persecuted in China for more than a decade. Day in and day out, Fu and his ministry team have been working non-stop to bring relief to those suffering in Fu’s native land of China. Fu and his wife escaped from China (and persecution) back in the 1990’s. Shortly after arriving in America (and beginning to study theology), Fu began working to serve other Christians, starting with a campaign to save 5 pastors from an unjust execution.

From his garage office, Fu began advocating on behalf of Christians in Communist China. Then, he moved his ministry to Midland, TX. He has quietly, but steadily built a solid reputation as an advocate for China’s persecuted. His ministry was exalted to center stage this past year when he helped orchestrate the escape of the blind lawyer Chen Guangchen. Negotiations were coordinated through Fu’s ministry, thus bringing Fu much recognition for his efforts. Several newspapers have recognized him this year as their person of the year.

Fu’s faith has proved true, and God is now exalting his ministry to the persecuted church. Fu has also been speaking against China’s forced abortion policy, helping women save their babies. His story is empowering for all those fighting the good fight day after day in seemingly forgotten fashion.  Bob Fu provides a clear example of God’s faithful presence with His people. Christ told the church that He would be present with her always, even to the end of the age.  Fu’s case encourages our faith as Christ continues to prove true to His word.

Thank you, Bob Fu—not just for advocating for persecuted Christians in 2012—for remembering the persecuted church day by day, year after year.

What Are the Top Two Priorities for the Local Church?


English: Church of Jesus Christ (Zion's Branch...

Church Building in Independence, Missouri.

This Sunday, I will finish a 6 week series on the New Testament concept of the church. When Christ sought to establish the instrument through which He would sustain His redemptive work to its completion, He founded the church, called both His body and His bride. Christ’s church must accomplish Christ’s purposes and should honor her Lord. How does she do this properly? What ought to be her priorities?

I am interested to hear some responses. Obviously, because I am preaching on this Sunday, I have my own opinions. I think the two greatest priorities for the church are worship and fellowship, but I understand I have my work cut out for me. There are many other possible answers. Some would hope the Church would first be salt and light, shaping the culture (this would be the Reclaiming America crowd).

Others would argue for the urgency of evangelism. Who could deny the immediate necessity of reaching out to more than 3 billion souls who are presently destined to perish, apart from hearing a word of hope through the gospel of Jesus Christ? What about those who argue that social action is our top priority–feeding the hungry and serving the needy? And still others would say that missions work–sending the gospel to the unreached corners of the globe–is that which is most important. So, what are the top two priorities for the local church?

Did God Cause Kids to Die in Connecticut?


Christ Before Pilate. Friedländer (1969): p. 83.

Christ Before Pilate. Friedländer (1969): p. 83. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A brother in Christ recently asked, “Did God cause the Connecticut school shootings?”  I am attempting to answer that question with this blog post because I imagine that question—or something similar to it—is on the minds of a lot of Christians.

So, let me begin by clarifying some language. Clearly, God did not cause the evil in the schoolrooms of Sandy Hook Elementary.  The cause of that evil was sin in the heart of Adam Lanza. It was Adam Lanza’s sinful actions which led to the deaths of twenty children, six adults, his mother, and himself.

But the question isn’t so easily answered, is it? While it is true that the cause of these deaths was one man, Adam, the question still persists: Where was God?  Did God have a hand in the evil? So, to clarify the question a little further, we might ask plainly, “Was this God’s will?”

Several passages of Scripture make it plain that God is in charge of all things pertaining to life and death. God is sovereign over life and death and all things good and evil.

Deuteronomy 32:39, See now that I, I am He, And there is no god besides Me; It is I who put to death and give life.

Amos 3:6, If a calamity occurs in a city has not the Lord done it?

1 Sam 2:6-7,  The Lord kills and makes alive; He brings down to Sheol and raises up. The Lord makes poor and rich; He brings low, He also exalts.

Lamentations 3:37-38Who is there who speaks and it comes to pass, Unless the Lord has commanded it?  Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that both good and ill go forth?

Job 2:10But he said to her, “You speak as one of the foolish women speaks. Shall we indeed accept good from God and not accept adversity?” In all this Job did not sin with his lips.

Job 37:13, “Whether for correction, or for His world, or for lovingkindness, He causes it to happen.

Proverbs 16:4, The Lord has made everything for its own purpose, even the wicked for the day of evil.

Hebrews 9:27, And inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment,

In accordance with Scripture, we would have to say that it was God’s will for those 28 people to die in Connecticut last week.  A day is fixed by God for death for all people. After this death, the judgment comes, and no one knows the day or the hour. Some people die at birth. Others die at a hundred and three.  Some die in plane crashes, others of sickness and disease. Some, sadly, will die at the hands of an evil murderer. So, these died on their appointed day.

We do not know how these things are ordered by God, but we know that they are. So, it was God’s will?

That still doesn’t seem exactly right to say, does it? On the issue of God’s will, the Scriptures are clear that murder is wrong: Thou shalt not kill.  It was not God’s will for this man to kill these children.  And yet it happened.  And nothing happens outside of God’s ultimate will.  So how could this happen apart from God’s will, and, if this is God’s will, how could He not be considered the cause of it?

On the question of whether God causes such evil, the answer must have the flexibility to handle both what God reveals as His will and what God ultimately accomplishes as His will.  God spoke through Moses, for example, that it was His will for no one to murder or bear false witness.  And yet, God accomplished the redemptive work of Christ through the murder and betrayal enacted by Judas.  Acts 4:27-28,

For truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate… to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place.

So, it seems there is a revealed will of God–that which we should do–and a secret will of God–that which we do not know everything about but must trust God’s hand to accomplish.  There is an immediate cause of sin which brings death, and there is the ultimate cause which God is accomplishing through sin and death.  Adam Lanza caused the deaths. But, ultimately, the cause of all things is God, who is working everything according to the counsel of His own secret will.

In the ultimate reality of eternity (of which we by faith can see only darkly), God causes all things to work together for good for those who love God, for those who are called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28).  In the immediate reality of a world filled with sin and death, there will be gross injustice and dire despair. But there will come an ultimate day when all things will be made new and made clear. A day of triumph in Christ when righteousness will finally prevail. Even when we can’t see God’s will, we can still trust His word.

Where Is God When Kids Get Shot?


Jesus Christ Crucifix

Jesus Christ Crucifix (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

Yesterday, twenty kindergarten children were mercilessly murdered by an evil young man. Some have  shouted, “Where is God?” in the face of this utterly unspeakable tragedy.  A friend of mine posted a quick reply to the cynical inquisition: “Where is God? He was kicked out of schools in America years ago.” There is truth to that remark.

 

I heard a news panel discussing the situation this morning, and one of the newscasters observed that we refuse to allow mention of God in the schools throughout the year, and, yet, we want to know where He is when tragedy strikes. This particular news commentator then said that prayer returned to the Sandy Hook school yesterday, and he recounted a story of a teacher huddling her children into a closet and praying over them. In crisis, we return to foundational principles of faith to offer some sense to the senseless.

 

But what good is faith in this situation? Where is God?  Actually, God has spoken to this situation. In these last days, God has spoken to us in His Son (Hebrews 1:2).  God, in love, sent His Son, so that whoever believes in him would never perish but would have eternal life.  Jesus did not come to play religious games. He did not come to teach meditation techniques. He did not come to establish a religious cult. He did not come as a football for American politicians to kick around.  He came to deal with the serious curse of death which has reigned since the time of Adam and Eve, our original human parents.

 

Adam’s son Cain committed the first human murder, perhaps wiping out ¼ of the human population at that time.  Abel was innocently worshiping God when his brother Cain fell upon him and mercilessly slaughtered him.  Murder has had its allies ever since. Jesus did not come to earth to rid the planet of murder—at least not yet.  There will be killings until Christ returns.

 

However, though Jesus did not come to answer murder, he did come to answer death. Death is a curse over all humankind.  In love, God has offered human beings an answer for the curse of death.  Christ paid the death penalty for all who believe.  He also has been raised from the dead, demonstrating that death is not final; it need not be the final word. There is another word: Life! Jesus Christ even called himself the resurrection and the life. He said He is the truth, the life, and the way.  Christ did not say this because he was on some exclusive power trip. He said it because it is true. There is only one answer for death: the resurrection life of Jesus Christ.

 

Where was God yesterday? The same place He remains yesterday, today, and forever—speaking to us in His Son, saying death is a curse that you are all under. Young and old alike will die. Some, sadly, will kill.  But Christ gives life.  Christ is the Resurrection and the Life.

 

When Martha’s brother unexpectedly died, she was hurt and confused. She turned to Jesus for answers, and this is what He said:

 

Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, 26and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?”

 

Costly Mistakes and Christ’s Solution


The dead Christ.

Christ Crucified. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A costly mistake by the goalie at the end of their game against El Salvador cost the U.S. men’s soccer team the opportunity to play in the London Olympics. Because the Olympic team is made up of men under the age of 23, most of those on the team will never have an opportunity to play in the Olympics. One error—one mis-timed jump from the goalie—cost the entire team the chance to go for golden glory.

In a separate incident in Canada, a group of papermill workers received bills in the mail stating that they owed their former employer between $20,000 and $30,000 because of an accounting error by someone who administered their pension plans: a costly error indeed! What would you do if all of a sudden you owed someone $25,000?

Mistakes are often costly. What is true in the diurnal affairs of athletes and laborers is also true in the eternal affairs of every soul. Errors can be costly—even deadly. This past summer, a driver of a pickup truck made a costly mistake in operating his truck, causing the vehicle to veer off the main road, over the shoulder, and into a very large tree. The tragedy was compounded by the error of cramming 18 illegal immigrants into the truck before driving it into Texas. In all, about a dozen people died in that crash; several others were left in serious condition. Errors are costly.

How much more costly are those errors which affect the state of our eternal souls? The doctrinal error of disbelieving that Jesus is God the Son proves an eternally costly error for the unbelieving soul:

“He who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.

More to the point of grace, however, is the fact that God knows our weakness. He understands that we are but dust. We are earthen vessels. We all make serious mistakes. From ages past, God has made a way to cover not just sins but also mistakes. Our mistakes and our sins of ignorance are atoned for by Christ. God has shown this desire to forgive frail creatures throughout history. God has always offered His people an atoning work that is so complete it overs sins of omission and sins of commission. God’s atonement covers more than just the sins we knowingly committed; it also covers sins committed in ignorance.  God atones for every degree of sin.

Such mercy is indeed great. Ezekiel speaks of such a sacrifice in chapter 45. On God’s authority, the prophet says,

You are to do the same on the seventh day of the month for anyone who sins unintentionally or through ignorance; so you are to make atonement for the temple. Ezek 45:20. 

The sacrifices of the Old Testament all pointed to God’s provision for His people—a provision great enough to cover  for sins of which people were not even aware. The completion of the sacrificial system happened in Christ’s “once for all” sacrifice of Himself, and His was no less magnanimous than the Old Testament version.

The sacrifice of Christ for His people accomplished a complete redemption, forgiveness, and cleansing. Thank God!, Our forgiveness and cleansing is not contingent upon our remembering and reciting every sin.  This is significant because, like infants, we don’t really have a clue about the damage our sins have done.  None of us knows the depths of our own sins. Christ knows and yet cleanses us from all unrighteousness.

Making mistakes in our doctrines and beliefs may prove fatal, but getting doctrines right before God always proves to be life-giving, cool water for the thirsty soul.

Why Jesus Cares for the Persecuted (and we should, too) – Video


When we began Project 13:3 as a ministry to the persecuted church, we ran the idea by some friends to get their input.

Below is a video of a conversation I had with a very good friend of mine, Jeff Mooney. Dr. Mooney is a Professor of Old Testament at California Baptist University. The video below is Part 1 in a series of videos which discuss what the Bible teaches about persecution.  The videos also explain the need for a ministry like Project 13:3.

I would love to get more input from some of you. I will post more videos in the future, and I will pass along your criticisms and comments to our video editors for future work we are planning to do. Please let us know if the videos are helpful and what could make them better. Thanks!

Is God Always on Israel’s Side? (Part 3 of 3)


If what has been said already about Israel is true, then a question arises, “What about the nation of Israel today?” In this finalIsrael Flag God Favor Israel Ethnic National Christ part (of a three-part series), we’ll look at what the Bible says about Israel as an ethnic/national people.  The key text for this discussion is Romans 11.

The question we are asking is, essentially, the same question Paul asked when he discussed this topic (which might be an indication that we are on the right track).  Paul’s question, “I ask, then, has God rejected his people?” The answer is, “By no means! For I myself am an Israelite…” (Romans 11:1).

Romans 11 is notorious for the difficulty scholars have had coming to an agreement over its contents. I will offer you my thoughts on it to help you make sense of the chapter for yourself.  Here is the way I read Paul’s statement.

First, it is not as though God’s plan has failed just because Israel (nationally/ethnically) has been cut off from God’s favor, “for not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel” (Romans 9:6).  Paul acknowledges that the situation after Christ is not so far removed from the situation before Christ; it has never been the case that everyone within the borders of ethnic or national Israel were actually the chosen of God.

God’s people have never been characterized by ethnicity. They have always—since Abraham—been characterized by faith—humbly believing as true that which God has revealed.  The issue has never been about birth or land but always about mercy (so Romans 9:14-15). So, Paul states in 9:7, “not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring.”  Children of God were always and still are children by faith, not by birth.

Second, God has an over-arching, sovereign plan for all nations and people, including for Israel. In Romans 11:11, Paul asks, “did [Israel] stumble in order that they might fall?” His question wonders whether Israel is forever lost to Christ in the plan of God. His own answer is, “May it never be!” This verse (11:11) alerts us to the fact that God has a plan for people—including for people whose heritage is Jewish—through Jesus Christ.

Third, God’s plan displays an unexpected irony in that the present rejection of the Jews has the built-in purpose of making them jealous of the outpouring of salvation to the Gentiles (See 11:11).  The fact that God’s people are now those with faith in Christ is expected to make the Jews (who had all the original promises and covenants from God) jealous—so that they, too, might be brought back to covenant love with Him.

At his own realization of the glory of God in putting together such a comprehensive scheme for Jews and Gentiles regarding salvation through Christ, Paul worships, shouting forth, “Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways….”

Israel Flag God Favor Israel Ethnic National ChristFourth, for now, a hardening has come upon (ethnic/national) Israel. This hardening allows an on-going opportunity for the full number of non-Jews to come in to the kingdom. As Paul says in Romans 11:25, “a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in.”  What is important to remember is that the hardening is partial, meaning not all Jews even now are rejected. Some are accepted by God through Christ. Some are believers.  Paul stated that he was such an Israelite.

And so, any Israelite who stops his unbelief will also be brought into the family of faith and the kingdom of God (11:23). The partial hardening means some Jews are now being saved.  Now is the time for the full number of Gentiles also to come into the kingdom of God, along with some of the Jews.  “And in this way all Israel will be saved” (11:26).  Jews and Gentiles together become one body with one Lord in one faith through Jesus Christ.

The favored people of God are those who have faith in His Son, Jesus Christ.  Apart from Christ, there is no kingdom or covenant promise for any other people. In these last days, God has spoken to us in His Son, Jesus.  Anyone who has the Son, has life. Anyone who does not have the Son of God does not have life.  National Israel is in a favored place only in the sense that there is a gospel witness in that land. May the Lord indeed grant for many to come to Christ through the preaching of this gospel.

Debates are sure to continue concerning Israel and concerning Paul’s instructions in Romans 9-11.  These chapters divide Amillennialists from Dispensationalists and Dispensationalists from one another. Nevertheless, one basic truth pierces through all theological distinctions like a sword pierces through a chink in the knight’s armor: he who does not have the Son of God does not have life (1 John 5:12).

Those who take confidence in living on a certain strip of land or having a Jewish sir name should re-think their basis of security, taking no confidence in the flesh.  Rather, like Abraham, they should have faith in God. Christians—those who by faith have received the promises of Abraham—must always remember to stay fixed on Jesus, the author and finisher of faith (for Gentiles and Jews alike).

Give Thanks to Almighty God (Says the President of the United States)


Happy Thanksgiving! We set aside today to remember Him to whom all thanks is due. Thanksgiving was instituted by

President George Washington First Thanksgiving Proclamation Almighty God

proclamation of the President of the United States–George Washington–on October 3, 1789.  You do not need for me to explain it to you because you can read it for yourself below. As you can see, the holiday was national and overtly religious.

Thank you, Almighty God, for the freedom our souls enjoy in Christ.

By the President of the United States of America, a Proclamation.

Whereas it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favor; and—Whereas both Houses of Congress have, by their joint committee, requested me “to recommend to the people of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer, to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favors of Almighty God, especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness:”

Now, therefore, I do recommend and assign Thursday, the 26th day of November next, to be devoted by the people of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being who is the beneficent author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be; that we may then all unite in rendering unto Him our sincere and humble thanks for His kind care and protection of the people of this country previous to their becoming a nation; for the signal and manifold mercies and the favor, able interpositions of His providence in the course and conclusion of the late war; for the great degree of tranquillity, union, and plenty which we have since enjoyed; for the peaceable and rational manner in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national one now lately instituted; for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed, and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and, in general, for all the great and various favors which He has been pleased to confer upon us.

And also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations, and beseech Him to pardon our national and other trangressions; to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually; to render our National Government a blessing to all the people by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed; to protect and guide all sovereigns and nations (especially such as have shown kindness to us), and to bless them with good governments, peace, and concord; to promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the increase of science among them and us; and, generally, to grant unto all mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as He alone knows to be best.

Given under my hand at the City of New York the third day of October in the year of our Lord 1789.

Go. Washington

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is God Always on Israel’s Side?


English: English translation of hebrew version...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How the Blessing of Persecution Works


Danger? Suffering? Isn’t that what Jesus said would follow those who follow Him?

In the fall of 1895, Alphonso Argento made his way from his native Sicily to London, where he was scheduled China Christians persecutedto undergo extensive training for China Inland Mission. Argento had been burdened for China four years earlier, when he committed his life to being a missionary there.

In his initial interview with China Inland Mission, Argento was warned about the dangers of preaching the gospel in China. His reply,

“I am not afraid even to die for Christ and the gospel. I was led to take this step after having known Christ’s promise, ‘Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.’”[1]

Jesus promised persecution to His people. Argento expected it from the beginning.

China was growing more and more unstable, as many nationalists were growing violently intolerant of Christian missionaries. In July of 1900, the Boxer Rebellion was underway, and the mission station in Henan Province—where Argento was serving—was attacked. Argento was beaten, thrown on a pile of wood, and burned. But he did not die. With the help of others, he escaped momentarily. Then, Argento was stopped and beaten again.

This final beating rendered him unconscious. In fact, the injuries Argento sustained on this night would plague him for the next 17 years, until, eventually, they would cost him his life.  Argento survived the attack, but had to suffer further taunting and ridicule from the locals, who told him, “Your God cannot save you. Jesus is dead; he is not in this world. He cannot give you real help. Our god of war is much stronger; he protects us, and he has sent the Boxers to pull down your house and kill you.”

Argento succumbed to his injuries 17 years later, but he never really died (see John 11:26).  Today in the Guangshan area where Argento served, God has raised an army of believers which numbers more than 120,000. Argento, an Italian grain of wheat, did suffer and die in China, but, dying, this grain of wheat brought forth much fruit. Everything has turned out just as Jesus promised.


[1] Hattaway, Paul. China’s Christian Martyrs (Oxford: Monarch Books, 2007) 326. This story is adapted from Hattaway’s book, which can be found here.

Election 2012: A Sad Nightmare but Steady Hope


Obama Obamacare AbortionI went to bed late but arose early, hoping against all hope that my waking would prove the nightmare of President Obama’s reelection to have been just a bad dream.  But it was not a bad dream; it was a bad reality, a sad statement about the soul of our once great nation. I am wide awake now to the reality that I live among a godless and gutless people who have traded real freedom for the illusory freedom of sexual promiscuity.

Worse, I live among a people who apparently count it a privilege—a right—to kill their own children in the womb in order to keep their sexual promiscuity free of the “burden” of children. And now, thanks to Obamacare, I live in a nation which not only condones this awful practice, but one that also expects me and others of good conscience to pay for baby-killing drugs so college co-eds need not even “suffer” the financial costs of their killings.

I cannot wake up from this bad dream. I cannot believe that my neighbors and fellow countrymen have become such callous condoners of innocent slaughter.  I must find a way to sober up from this sickening stupor which has robbed me of my sleep.

Indeed, I must awaken to the sad reality that the light of which Reagan spoke has died. Though I understand that America has never been a Christian nation in the sense of all or even most of her residents actually being Christian, still, there was the Judeo-Christian mindset, a heritage of “light” which brought freedom to all. Now, that light and that freedom is lost.

This election will be spoken of in many ways. The athletes of politics will sit with their analyst coaches and talk strategy, as though this election loss were merely a matter of turnovers, political fumbles, or lack of execution. But this election—like the Democrat National Convention which preceded it—sent a chorus of boos up to God and snubbed the concerns of the Almighty.

Thus, I cannot think of this election in any terms but theological. It was an awful night for America, and the nightmare has really just begun. I think from this point forward, America will spill more and more of its historically Judeo-Christian blood. It was once our lifeblood. It means we are dying. As Mark Steyn so deftly tweeted, this election was a Thelma and Louise moment for our nation. We’ve decided to go full speed ahead toward our demise.

I am sad for all the greatness which now seems lost in our history. More important, I am very sad for all the babies which will now be killed and whose killing will be paid for by conscientious objectors. I can only think of how Scripture explains such people:

as it is written:

                “None is righteous, no, not one;

                                no one understands;

                                no one seeks for God.

                All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;

                                no one does good,

                                not even one.”

                “Their throat is an open grave;

                                they use their tongues to deceive.”

                “The venom of asps is under their lips.”

                                “Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.”

                “Their feet are swift to shed blood;

                                in their paths are ruin and misery,

                and the way of peace they have not known.”

                                “There is no fear of God before their eyes.” (Romans 3:10-18 ESV)

This would be a time of bitterness and despair for me, except that my citizenship is not first and foremost in America. My citizenship is first in heaven, where the hope of my soul is anchored, where Christ is—seated at the right hand of God, having completed all the work necessary for my salvation. My soul rests in the care of the Good Shepherd. In Christ, I shall renew my strength and preach the gospel that others would turn from wickedness into the eternal rest of Christ.

I am awake now to the furious reality of peace in Christ. Take courage, all believers, “You have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly” (Hebrews 12:22).

An Important Event You Don’t Have to Miss


Scripture teaches us to make the most of our time because the days are evil. One of the ways to make the most of your time is to invest your time in the church. Why the church? Simply this, the church is the body and bride of Christ.

I suspect that you are aware of your own body constantly (either by its limitations or its opportunities to survive and flourish). Likewise, if you are married, you are constantly aware of (and hopefully concerned about) your husband or your wife.  These concerns for our bodies and for our brides are reflective of the ultimate concern Christ has for His own body and His own bride–the church. Jesus loves the church.  Project 13:3 IDOP prayer persecution christian persecution Nigeria

Out of this love, Jesus bears an intense burden for His saints who suffer–particularly for His saints who suffer persecution on account of their belonging to Him (see Matthew 5:10-12).  Recognizing this degree of love, Project 13:3 is joining together with Christians everywhere to remember the persecuted church on Sunday, November 11, at 6:00p.m.

Project 13:3 has put together a program which features Christian persecution in Nigeria. Not only will the program include testimony from Nigerian Christians through video, but it will also include live prayers by Nigerian Christians on behalf of their brothers and sisters being targeted by violence. Christians have suffered persecution every day this year in Nigeria. Violence is a diurnal reality. We can help them with our prayers.

If you cannot make the live event, you can still join Project 13:3 via livestream. There is no reason to miss this significant event.

 

Blame Christians: An Old Practice Finds New Life in Malaysia


A recent editorial is making news in Malaysia. According to Free Malaysia Today (FMT), the Umno government in Malaysia is making scapegoats of Christians in order to turn attention away from their own failures.

The original scapegoat (Azazel of Leviticus 16) was an innocent goat who had the sins of Israel put upon its head and was sent away from the camp, signifying a removal of Scapegoat Azazel Lev 16 Christians Malaysia persecutionsins from God’s people. Since then, anyone who has taken the blame for another has been referred to as a scapegoat.

FMT argues that Christians are now being asked to take the fall for the sins of Malaysia’s government leaders. Things are going poorly in an increasingly Muslim Malaysia, so why not blame the Christians? Whether the accusations against Christians are true, these charges against Christians are nothing new.

From the beginning, Christians have been blamed: for unrest in Jerusalem (Acts 5); for social ills in Philippi (Acts 16:19ff); and for political unrest in Thessalonica (Acts 17:5ff). Less than four decades after the death of Christ, Christians were blamed for the destruction of Rome.  Nero famously accused Christians of causing Rome to burn in 64 A.D.  From that time forward, Christians were routinely considered a plague blighting an otherwise pristine and glorious Rome.

By the end of the 4th Century, Augustine had arrived on the Christian scene and finally had enough of the accusations against Christians.  As a result, he wrote his epic defense of Christianity, The City of God.  In that work, Augustine specifically addressed the folly of blaming Christians for the ills of Rome.  Christians, according to Augustine, actually brought light into the darkness of Rome. Consider this paragraph from the City of God (Book I, Chapter 7):

Window St. Augustine City of God Christian persecution

St. Augustine Window
Gnu Free License (source: Wikipedia)

All the spoiling then which Rome was exposed to in the recent calamity—all the slaughter, plundering, burning, and misery—was the result of the custom of war.  But what was novel, was that savage barbarians showed themselves in so gentle a guise, that the largest churches were chosen and set apart to whom quarter was given, and that in them none were slain, from them none forcibly dragged… Whoever does not see that this is to be attributed to the name of Christ, and to the Christian temper, is blind; whoever sees this, and gives no praise, is ungrateful; whoever hinders any one from praising it, is mad.

Augustine pointed out that Christians brought humanity to war through their church ministries. Still, Augustine understood that Christians would be easy targets as scapegoats.  He also understood that Christians had an obligation to be good citizens in the city of man precisely because they already were citizens of the city of God.  This clash between ruling powers and Christian citizens did not end with the fall of the Roman empire; it continued on.

Few people realize that John Calvin was not motivated to write his systematic theology for the purpose of fueling five centuries of debate in the western tradition of Christianity. Calvin actually wrote his Institutes of the Christian Religion to defend Christians from the persecution they were receiving at the hands of European rulers.  Christians were again being blamed for political unrest, and Calvin took up the pages of the Institutes for the purpose of stopping the slaughter. In his preface, Calvin addressed King Francis with these words about his reasons for writing:

For ungodly men have so far prevailed that Christ’s truth, even if it is not driven away scattered and destroyed, still lies hidden, buried and inglorious.  The John Calvin Institutes Christian Persecutionpoor little church has either been wasted with cruel slaughter or banished into exile, or so overwhelmed by threats and fears that it dare not even open its mouth. And yet, with their usual rage and madness, the ungodly continue to batter a wall already toppling and to complete the ruin toward which they have been striving.  Meanwhile no one comes forward to defend the church against such furies…

Calvin, obviously, hoped the Institutes would defend the church against the furies of persecution. What’s happening in Malaysia has happened before. There is nothing new under the sun with regard to persecution.  I am not surprised to read that the same scapegoating of Christians is continuing in Malaysia, but I am anxiously awaiting the next Augustine or Calvin to come to the aid of the Bride of Christ.

Then again, maybe we don’t need a single great man. Maybe, instead, we need the Lord to raise up an army of people like us to oppose injustice and exalt Christ. Why not us? History is certainly on our side. Even if history were against us, Christ would still be for us.

Do You Know What Is Glorious?


Egypt Coat of Arms Muslim Persecution Christians

 

Christians in Egypt are glorious. Or, more precisely, Christ is being glorified through the lives of Christians in Egypt.

 

Since the so-called “Arab spring,” which toppled Hosni Mubarak and other leaders throughout the Middle East, Egypt has become increasingly more hostile to freedom and more open to Islamic rule.  As a result, Christians have suffered as the targets of horrific violence. And the results of their suffering? Glory.

 

According to this report from Charisma News, more than 10,000 Christians from all over Egypt traveled to a secret location in the desert north of Cairo for the sole purpose of worshiping Jesus Christ in the midst of their suffering. The effort—called “One Thing”—was designed to encourage believers to stay true to the one thing that matters in life:

 

“One thing I have asked from the LORD, that I shall seek: That I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, To behold the beauty of the LORD And to meditate in His temple.”

 

While we can certainly join them by praying for them, we can also take great delight in seeing the glory of Christ once again being glorified through suffering. Isn’t this indicative of the original gospel work He completed? It was for glory that Christ endured the cross.

 

Christians understand that the glory of Christ is on fullest display through suffering. Whatever suffering the saints endure is multiplied into an eternal weight of glory. So Paul says, For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison (2 Corinthians 4:17).

 

If you want to know what is glorious, look to Egypt. No doubt, there is glory in Egypt.

 

Why Christians Should Care About Who Is Elected in November


For more than a century, Christians have been stretched by the tension of a fundamentalist strand on one side and the evangelical strand on the other, each pulling backwards against the other like a rubber band being pulled apart by two opposing hands.  The result has indeed been tension.

On the one hand, the fundamentalists have sought to protect the purity of the gospel against outside attacks. This fundamentalist tendency seeks to shield the church from outside influences but also has the rather unintended effect of shielding those outside from the church’s influence. Not only is the church protected from the world, but the world is also “protected” from the church.

Evangelicals, on the other hand, have sought to establish the necessity of salt stinging and light shining. So, under the theological influence of Carl F.H. Henry and the Billy graham evangelical vs fundamentalistpopular influence of Billy Graham, the evangelical movement sought to engage the culture, taking every thought captive in obedience to Christ.  Henry would initiate Christianity Today magazine and Graham would begin the practice of meeting with Presidents.  Evangelicals clearly won the debate, but the tension still abides. There are still Christians who wish us to “stay out of politics.”

Because our culture feels so “politicized,” many would prefer we not to get mixed up in politics. Surely, it would be easier if we didn’t have to deal with the deceit and obfuscation made popular by modern magistrates. Even though withdrawing would be easier, I don’t think it is the faithful course for Christians to follow. Here is why.

In Deuteronomy 17, the Lord gave instructions to Israel before she took possession of the Promised Land.  In these instructions, Israel was taught about the proper function of authority (the king).  In effect, the king’s role was to institute the righteousness of God.  A primary function of government, then, is to administer and uphold justice; upholding justice demands following the commands God has given. This was true for ancient Israel, and it is true for us today.

Obviously, we do not live under the rule of a Davidic king in the land of Israel, but the basic principle of Deuteronomy 17 still holds. Paul explains (in Romans 13) that government is to approve of what is good and punish what is evil. No doubt, Paul understands that good and evil are established by God, not merely by man. Thus, government still exists to uphold the righteousness of God (which is good).

Christians have an obligation to do their very best to uphold the righteousness of God in every aspect of life—including public and governmental aspects of life. Such upholding of righteousness in the face of injustice is at least a part of what it means to be salt and light in an otherwise dark and decaying world.

Practically, this upholding of righteousness means Christians must participate in public debate, must participate  by voting, and must care about what happens in the greater world of government and civic life. To withdraw from these responsibilities is not to care more about God and the gospel; it is actually to care less about the gospel and about people in general.  Listen to how St. Augustine explains it,

st augustine politics authority governmentFor both the physician is irksome to the raging madman, and a father to his undisciplined son,—the former because of the restraint, the latter because of the chastisement which he inflicts; yet both are acting in love.

In other words, Augustine understands that doctors and dads must intervene if they care at all for their patients or their children. Love compels their engagement—even if their engagement is taken as a negative or unpleasant intrusion.  Augustine explains further,

But if they were to neglect their charge, and allow them to perish, this mistaken kindness would more truly be accounted cruelty. For if the horse and mule, which have no understanding, resist with all the force of bites and kicks the efforts of the men who treat their wounds in order to cure them; and yet the men, though they are often exposed to danger from their teeth and heels, and sometimes meet with actual hurt, nevertheless do not desert them till they restore them to health through the pain and annoyance which the healing process gives,—how much more should man refuse to desert his fellow-man, or brother to desert his brother, lest he should perish everlastingly…

If the Christian cares at all for his fellow human being, he will not withdraw or be silent on matters which others have politicized. The greatest commandment is to love God with heart and soul, and the second is to love your neighbor as yourself. These two great loves compel our engagement in “political” affairs such as the protection of human life and the honoring of the institution of marriage.

In my opinion, then, each Christian should take up the shaker of the gospel and sprinkle its salt of truth into the world on issues important to the day. Likewise, each individual Christian should both live and act in a righteous manner to shine the light of truth for others groping in the darkness to see. That’s the way things look to me (and to Augustine).  Your opinion, as always, is welcome.

Gordon Lightfoot’s Good Question (and God’s great answer)


One of the greatest secular songs ever written, Gordon Lightfoot’s The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald stands as a monument of musical story-telling.  Inspired by a Newsweekarticle of the November 10, 1975, events that led to the loss of the Great Lakes’ greatest ship, Lightfoot penned a masterful poem capturing the weight of the

Christ theology lightfoot edmund fitzgerald

Source: Wikipedia

tragedy both lyrically and musically.

In the song, Lightfoot asks a penetrating question: “Does anyone know where the love of God goes when the waves turn the minutes to hours?”

The question is an appropriate response to the actual tragedy of the Edmund Fitzgerald. The November gale likely stirred the waves to 35 feet or more.  No doubt, the 29 crew members spent the last minutes of their lives in a sinking agony which both lasted forever and ended their lives in an instant. All that remained were “the faces and the names of the wives and the sons and the daughters.”  All crew members were lost.

In those last moments of terror, where was God? Where, indeed, did the love of God go as the captain, cook, and crew were drowning? Lightfoot’s question is a good one, demanding a sober assessment of our theology.

I would answer in two ways. First, the love of God was at the cross in Jesus Christ. Scripture teaches that God is love (1 John 4) and that in His greatest act of love, God sent His son to die on the cross for our sins (John 3:16; Ephesians 5:25).  What this means is that God has made provision for us when the time comes to meet our maker.

Lightfoot’s rendering of the “Big Fitz” saga is an epic display of the drama of man meeting his mortality.  On the one hand, Big Fitz was the largest of the Great Lakes freighters; it was a workhouse, annually resetting hauling records which it had broken the prior year.  The ship was a maritime marvel of historic proportions. Yet, as Lightfoot so powerfully puts it, “That good ship and true was a bone to be chewed when the ‘Gales of November’ came early.”

Edmund Fitzgerald lightfoot christian theology godRegardless of our size, success, or seemingly invincible ability to survive, we all will face death. “It is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment…” (Hebrews 9:27).  The fact that death is in the world is undeniable for every living soul. The fact that our “appointment” with death is not ours to determine is likewise undeniable.  The love of God in Christ says that God has taken note of our frames (that we are but dust) and has acted in such a way that we need no longer fear death—whenever it calls upon us to go. God did not have to act on our behalf. God loved us and sent His son as a Savior for our sins. The love of God points to the cross when death draws near.

Second, the love of God points to the Resurrection.  When the November gales chewed the ship and its crew, the Resurrection of Christ was screaming the love of God for all who believe. The Resurrection speaks on the authority of God that death is not the final victor. Though death seems to win in situations of shipwreck, the truth is that Christ has demonstrated the victorious power of life (1 Corinthians 15:54-57).  Christ called Himself the Resurrection and the life (John 11:25) because Christ alone has defeated death.

For all who perished on the Edmund Fitzgerald, it is true that their bodies sank in the rooms of Superior’s “ice water mansions.”  But it is also true that God has spoken for any and all to hear that death need not be the end of the matter.  The love of God screams of victory—of life—in the face of death because of the love of God who sent His Son that we might not ever perish but always have eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord.

I am glad Gordon Lightfoot asked the question. I’m even more glad that the God of love has answered it in Christ.

Tribulation Now for Nigerian Christians


 

Usually, I love debating theology and the finer points of Christian doctrine. I am a pastor and a professor; I am supposed to love such things. But there is one aspect of doctrine that tends to provoke my inner Mike Tyson.  I go nuts whenever I see or hear some modern day prophet spewing his end-time apocalyptic fire.

Typically, such “prophecies” warn Christians (ur, American Christians) about some latter day tribulation that will be intolerable (unless you believe in a pre-Trib rapture). I find such claptrap to be both uninspired and downright deplorable. Nigeria gives us just one reason why.

In Nigeria, between 25-30 Christian students have been murdered by Muslim terrorists.  The students were in their rooms studying for their college exams—just like your Christian persecution Nigeria tribulation kids and my kids are (supposed to be) doing week after week in their apartments and dorm rooms.  Suddenly, armed Muslim terrorists broke into their rooms, called them out by name, and killed them either by shooting them or by slitting their throats. Why were they murdered? Because they were Christian and not Muslim.

Imagine if this were your child. Imagine your son, your daughter, working hard to get entry into college and trying to study to improve his or her future, only to be robbed of that future by men who fashion themselves Allah’s executioners.  What right do these men have to decide that your child should die today? Can you imagine the agony of these mothers and fathers today, as they now must struggle to find a way to bury their children?

I dare say it would be cruel to speak to these parents and warn them (like a prophecy preacher would) of some horrible time in the future which might include intense persecution for the church. That future is now for Christians all over the world. Tribulation is now for Christians in Nigeria. In Nigeria, there has been violence against Christians every single day since November 2011.  It seems to me they are facing tribulation now on account of Christ. Persecution is their normal day.

Rather than prophesying to Christians about some future apocalyptic persecution, the Apostle Paul made a regular practice of encouraging Christians by telling them, “Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22).  Fear-mongering by futuristic prophecy preaching only works from the comfort of America, where examples of suffering might include sitting in uncomfortable pews or enduring painfully loud drums in the worship service.  In Nigeria, they are not afraid of the future prospect of persecution because their present reality is a call to survive, to endure, to persevere to the end of their tribulation and receive their white robes and new names in the presence of the one whose eyes are flaming fire and whose tongue is a two-edged sword, razor-sharp with truth and justice.  Undoubtedly, their thoughts are Christ-ward as their souls cry, “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!”

 

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).

 

Do You Believe in Miracles (Part 3 of 3)


However, the much more positive perspective on the miracles of Jesus is that they often led to faith (as was their

design).  When the man born blind received his sight in John 9, he said, “I believe.”  And he worshiped at the feet of

Miracle lame man healed

Lame Man Healed

Jesus (John 9:38).  When the lame beggar outside the temple was healed, he went out walking and leaping and praising God (Acts 9:8).  Such is God’s design for his miracles.

Undoubtedly, the skeptics and unbelievers will persist in denying the presence of miracles.  Jesus had his skeptics, as did C. S. Lewis nearly two thousand years later.  No one will ever prove the existence of miracles to everyone’s satisfaction, but the believer will hold to their reality with the vehement certainty of a mother who knows her own child.  Why?

The believer owes his very own spiritual existence to a miracle.  The plainest evidence to the believer of the reality of miracles is his own spiritual awakening to Christ.  Jesus tells Nicodemus that this spiritual awakening is a new birth, wrought by God (John 3:3, 21).  The Apostle Paul says that faith comes as a gift to the believer who is made alive by God’s hand at work, not as a result of man’s efforts—so that no one may boast before God (Ephesians 2:1-10).  Every believer is a walking testimony to the reality of a miracle of grace.

A monthly publication called The King’s Business (published by Biola from 1910 – 1970) once told the story of the atheist Joseph Parker.  Upon his visit to a mining town in the north of England, Parker proudly lectured the crowds repeatedly on why it was foolish to believe in God and to believe in miracles.  After satisfactorily completing his eloquent refutation of the Christian faith, Parker prepared to leave the crowd to ponder how well he had demolished belief in Christ.

conversion a miracle A poor, dirty man in grimy, mining clothes stood up and offered his own simple reply to Parker’s polished unbelief.  Reportedly, the man said, “Sir, I’m only a working man, and I don’t know what you mean by the word ‘myth.’  But can you explain me?  Three years ago I had a miserable home; I neglected my wife and children; I cursed and swore; I drank up all my wages. Then someone came along and showed me the love of God and of His Son Jesus Christ. And now all is different. We have a happy home; I love my wife and children; I feel better in every way; and I have given up the drink. A new power has taken possession of me since Christ came into my life. Sir, can you explain me?”

Every Christian believer stands as an apt refutation to the skeptic’s denial of miracles.

Do You Believe in Miracles? (Part 2 of 3)


(Continued from Part 1)

From the earliest stages of the Old Testament, instructions were given for people by God concerning miracles and their proper functions.  In Deuteronomy 13:1-3, God’s people received a succinct, yet irrefutably clear, annunciation of the function of miracles.  There are two primary functions of the signs and wonders.

First, the signs and wonders acknowledge the presence of God.  Yet, the mere presence of the signs and wonders is not enough to affirm the presence of God at work. It is possible that signs and wonders might be performed by false prophets (as was the case with Pharaoh’s magicians in Egypt). Thus, a second function of the miracles was to affirm all that God taught and commanded.  Deuteronomy 13:1-3 orders Israel to test the prophet to see whether his signs and wonders are followed by leading the people astray from the one, true God.  If so, then the false prophet is to be executed for misleading the people by deceitfully performing signs and wonders only to lead God’s people to worship false gods.

Ironically, this Deuteronomy 13 passage is that which was used by the Pharisees against Jesus.  Their legalistic

Miracles christ pharisees

Christ and the Pharisees
(Public Domain)

interpretations of the Old Testament were too restrictive to realize that Christ was leading to the Father (John 14:6) and not away from him.  To the Pharisees, Jesus was performing signs and wonders, but he was also leading folks away from God.  Again, no one doubted whether Jesus was performing miracles.  No one doubted whether his miracles were supernatural either, but there was doubt among the unbelieving—and especially among the religious leaders—as to whether his miracles came from God.

This matter of Jesus’s signs and wonders brought the inevitable clash between Jesus and his accusers to its ultimate head.  The Pharisees, in accordance with Deuteronomy 13, demanded that Jesus perform a sign in order to test him (Luke 11:16).

Ostensibly, they were testing him in accord with the faithful practices outlined in Deuteronomy 13.  Yet, instead of affirming God’s presence from the works of Jesus, these leaders instead insisted that his signs and wonders were empowered by the devil (Luke 11:14ff).  Against their accusations, Jesus confirmed that his miracles represented nothing less than the dawning of the kingdom of God (Luke 11:20).

Undaunted, the Pharisees and others persisted in their unbelief—even ascribing Jesus’s miracles to Satan.  In this context, the unpardonable sin arises. It is a severe rebellion which will not answer the cry of the miracles of God.  How much more severe a crime is it to ascribe those miraculous outbursts of God’s good works to the evil one himself!  From the perspective of Jesus, the miracles speak loudly and clearly to the presence of God at work in the midst of his creation.

Lewis is correct, then, that the miracles write out quite legibly a testimony from God that He is at work in the midst of humankind.  Lewis had his skeptics to deal with, just as Jesus had his.  Some, like the Pharisees, would deny the source of the miracles.  Others—like the followers of the Scottish philosopher David Hume—would deny the very presence of miracles.  Still others—like King Herod—sought to see the miracles just for the sheer entertainment value, as though Jesus were nothing more than a spiritual magician (Mark 8:15).  For all these who fail to acknowledge the presence of the living God, the miracles stand as a testimony of their unbelief (see John 9:41).

2 Persecution Lessons from a Keeper’s Broken Leg


 

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 an 2 persecution lesson's from broken legopportunity 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?