Space, Steve Miller, and a Good Christian Time


 

About forty years ago, my friend and I sat excitedly as the diamond needle made its way from the edge of the vinyl disc toward the center. Reliably, the turntable rotated at 33.3 RPM until the needle made its way to the grooved section with the song we most wanted to hear: “Fly Like an Eagle” by the Steve Miller Band.

bald-eagle-521492_1920As Miller’s melody filled the air, we experienced many feelings; disappointment wasn’t among them! The instant the “space intro” began to play, we were transported from our south Louisiana homes into a far-away world of rhythmic delight.

More recently, in a different small town in south Louisiana, scientists were likewise transported into a far-away place of audible fascination, but theirs was not a musical adventure—at least not technically. Scientists detected a faint chirp from deep space, instantaneously affirming Einstein’s century-old prediction that gravitational waves permeate our universe.

Writing in the New York Times, Dennis Overbye describes this chirp as music to the scientist’s ear,

“If replicated by future experiments, that simple chirp, which rose to the note of middle C before abruptly stopping, seems destined to take its place among the great sound bites of science, ranking with Alexander Graham Bell’s “Mr. Watson — come here” and Sputnik’s first beeps from orbit.”

On September 14, 2015, scientists at two different LIGO[1] facilities in Washington and Louisiana achieved the milestone discovery of GW150914—the first directly observed gravitational wave in space. Lasting only 0.2 seconds, the chirp of this wave reverberated around the world to the delight of scientists everywhere. Though discovered in September 2015, the wave was not announced until February 2016. Scientists ever since have been heralding the wave detection as a major achievement in science. Bruce Gordon of the Discovery Institute calls this discovery “the real thing,” while Szabolcs Marka of Columbia University says it is one of the major breakthroughs of physics. Eric Katsavounidis (LIGO team member) says, “This is the end of the silent-movie era in astronomy.”[2]

Astronomers are ecstatic about this discovery for more than one reason. Sure, Blog universe-2368403_1920GW150914 affirms an important aspect of Einstein’s theory of relativity. Perhaps more importantly, the detection of this gravitational wave means an entirely new dimension of exploration is unfolding. In the past, scientists studied the universe mainly by observing light. Now, gravitational waves can be studied throughout the cosmos, further clarifying aspects of motion, time, and origin of the cosmos. Adding gravitational waves is like adding sound to the light of the universe.

Years before my friend and I even heard of the Steve Miller Band, scientists had already begun working to observe gravitational waves. LIGO began as a dream in the 1960’s with scientists like Kip Thorne at Caltech. These scientists persevered through funding issues, research setbacks, and technology deficiencies for forty-eight years before their dream of detecting a gravitational wave was realized. If nothing else, the achievement stands as a testimony to human perseverance.

In 1916, Einstein first proposed finding gravitational waves. The search for these waves began in earnest about fifty years ago. Construction of super-technical, super-sensitive equipment began two decades ago. Over the last two decades, more than two hundred million dollars were invested in upgrades to the two LIGO observatories, culminating in a final round of intensive upgrades over the last five years. And just about a year ago—before the equipment was officially ready to launch—it happened. The chirp sounded (listen here). For two-tenths of a second, the earth surfed across a gravitational wave. Scientists worldwide rightly applauded.

Gravitational wave GW150914 was produced by the final collapse of spiraling, binary black holes. These spiraling black holes were once massive stars which collapsed into themselves, then into each other. Each of these black holes began as stars with a mass thirty times that of our sun. The collapse of the two stars, and the consequent merger of the two black holes, happened 1.4 billion light years away in the Southern Celestial Hemisphere.

No one on earth felt the gravitational wave. Without the sophisticated, ultra-sensitive LIGO equipment, no one would ever have known that such a wave existed. But because of LIGO scientists who were able to split laser beams and send them through 2.5 mile long vacuum tubes 90 degrees apart in Louisiana and Washington, the world now knows for sure that gravitational waves are rippling through the cosmos like intergalactic whirlpools. It’s easy to see why physicists are so excited.

Christians should join their applause. LIGO is a monumental achievement. Christians might be tempted to conflate this discovery too quickly into an argument for design (against evolution), or to question the assumptions of origins (for fiat creation against Big Bang cosmology). Scientists do tend to leave a number of metaphysical questions hanging like the ill-fitting apparel we put on the discarded clothes rack in fitting rooms. Charles Q. Choi explains it this way:

“Since the universe by its definition encompasses all of space and time as we know it, NASA says it is beyond the model of the Big Bang to say what the universe is expanding into or what gave rise to the Big Bang. Although there are models that speculate about these questions, none of them have made realistically testable predictions as of yet.”[3]

blog galaxies-connectedWhy is the universe expanding? To what end is the universe expanding? Is there a purpose built into the expansion? Where did the energy and mass derive from which the Big Bang occurred? Why should there be a Big Bang in the first place? These and many other questions remain unanswered. In truth, GW150914 answers some questions, refuses to answer other questions, and reveals still more fascinating questions waiting to be asked.

One such question in my own mind is how does this discovery affect our understanding of time and history. Ostensibly, the experiment had little to do with time; it was an experiment designed to detect gravitational waves in space. Yet everything about the experiment extols the virtues of linear time.

Think back to the song “Fly Like an Eagle.” The song wished for a revolution to eradicate poverty. Steve Miller wished he could fly like an eagle until he was free from the suffering in this world. Miller hoped for progress over time. One of the more memorable lines from the song is the confident refrain, “Time keeps on slippin’, slippin’, into the future.”

Like those of us whose cognitive formation took place in a western tradition, Steve Miller assumed that time is linear—that time progresses toward a defined point which we call the future. Does the notion of linear time correspond to the reality of the cosmos? Eastern religions doubt linear time. Even in the West, some have begun to doubt that time has a fixed beginning and a linear progression into the future.

Friedrich Nietzsche may be the most influential philosopher in the West to argue against linear time. According to Nietzsche, time occurs in a series of endless loops, a system he referred to as eternal recurrence. In this system, time is more like a wheel, turning round and round but going nowhere. Human action is rendered insignificant because whatever is has already been and will be again. In eternal recurrence, human action is pre-determined by the cycle of time. Thus, no human action ultimately changes history. The future is swallowed up in the past. So Nietzsche explained in Zarathustra, “The soul is as mortal as the body. But the knot of causes in which I am entangled recurs and will create me again.”[4]

Nietzsche was comfortable with—if not excited by—this loss of future meaning, but not everyone shares his zeal for embracing (and thus defying) the meaninglessness of human existence. Philosopher Ron Nash points out that Nietzsche’s eternal recurrence robbed history of meaning: “In order for history to have significance, it must have a goal. Without a purpose or goal, neither history nor individual human lives can have significance. Without a goal, there would be no basis by which mere change could be identified as progress.”[5]

It’s easy to see that the LIGO scientists pay close attention to history—especially the last 100 years. Not only history, these scientists are serious and sober about the future. They believe they are making progress, but they know they are only scratching the surface. They are determined to learn as much as they can before they die, leaving a knowledge trail for future scientists. In other words, these scientists believe in progress. LIGO scientists believe in the future.

The optimism of this work affirms in three ways the linear concept of time: First, that this universe has a single point of origin. Second, that this is an orderly universe which remains intact over time. Third, that the work done presently matters (has enduring significance not just now but in the future). These scientists share a belief in the progress of knowledge (preservation and advancement).

Christians, too, believe the universe has a single point of origin. We proclaim the significance of human life now with great confidence toward the future. We believe, for instance, that Christ died for our sins once in history for all time, and the benefits of that death endure to the future.

Christians should join the celebration of GW150914. The discovery of this wave affirms the way we see the universe. Christians and physicists agree that time is significant for human beings in the past and present. This discovery also means that we can keep singing Steve Miller, as time keeps on slipping, slipping into the future.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                [1] LIGO stands for Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory. There are two observatories, one in Livingston, LA, the other near Richland, WA.

[2] As quoted by Robert Naeye, Sky and Telescope, February 11, 2016, accessed [on-line] 27 January 2016: http://www.skyandtelescope.com/astronomy-news/gravitational-wave-detection-heralds-new-era-of-science-0211201644/

                [3] Charles Q. Choi, “Our Expanding Universe: Age, History, and Other Facts,” Space.Com (January 13, 2015), accessed January 30, 2017, [on-line] http://www.space.com/52-the-expanding-universe-from-the-big-bang-to-today.html

 

                [4] As Quoted in C. Ivan Spencer, The Tweetable Nietzsche (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2016), 104. Originally, this quotation is found in Nietzsche, Friedrich, Thus Spoke Zarathustra [III, “The Convalescent”].

[5] Ron Nash, The Meaning of History (Nashville: Broadman and Holman, 1998), 38.

What Is the New Tolerance (and why does it matter)?


D. A. Carson is a great blessing to the Christian church! He recently published another very important book titled The Intolerance of Tolerance.[1]

Carson Intolerance new tolerance  persecutionIn this significant work, Carson details the shift in meaning the word tolerance has undergone over the last century. Building from the work of S. D. Gaede, Carson distinguishes between the “Old tolerance” and “New tolerance.”  Understanding the New tolerance is simpler if one understands how it departs from the Old tolerance.

The primary distinction between New and Old tolerance is the foundation (or lack thereof) for determining what ought to be tolerated. No one is purely tolerant. Even if there were someone whose laissez-faire approach to life would convince him to tolerate such evils as child abuse, wife-beating, airport bombing, and terrorist beheading—chances are, that same person would almost certainly not tolerate such behavior against himself. It may be okay to tolerate stealing in the culture at large, but it surely is inappropriate to steal from me. What’s the old saying? There’s honor even among thieves.

No one is purely tolerant (thank God!).  Yet, tolerance as a theme permeates our culture. Carson shows how damaging the New tolerance definition is. As I said, the main distinction between the New tolerance and the Old tolerance is that the foundation of the Old tolerance appealed to truth obtained through reason and rationality.  The New tolerance is based solely on its opposition to intolerance. Listen to Carson,

…The old tolerance draws its limits on the basis of substantive arguments about truth, goodness, doing harm, and protecting society and its victims, while the new tolerance draws its limits on the basis of what it judges to be intolerant, which has become the supreme vice.”

If Carson is right (and I do believe he is), then the new tolerance is nothing short of a thought police force. Those in power have the force to enforce what is tolerable and what is not. Carson goes on to explain how the New tolerance operates as a “defeater belief.”[2]  The New tolerance assumes that Carson Intolerance new tolerance persecutionits definition of tolerance is good and right and, thus, superior to lesser beliefs about tolerance. If the New tolerance judges acceptance of gay marriage as the essence of tolerance, then any belief in opposition of gay marriage is automatically defeated as inferior. There is no appeal to truth and no reasoned argument necessary. The “superior” New tolerance by definition defeats the “inferior” (and thus intolerant) opposition.

The result is obviously a loss of harmony, a loss of community, a loss of dialog, and—ominously—a loss of the freedom to speak and even to think in ways contrary to the New tolerance. As Carson notes, the New tolerance tends to avoid serious engagement over difficult moral issues and simply excludes those moral opinions contrary to its own as non-virtuous and intolerant.

One need not think long about such an approach to see the danger lurking for Christians. The exclusivity of the way of Jesus Christ and the exacting nature of Christ’s commands for sexual purity will undoubtedly be expected to bow before the throne in allegiance to the New tolerance.

 

[1] D. A. Carson, The Intolerance of Tolerance (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2012).

 

[2] Carson gives credit to Tim Keller for his use of the term defeater belief.

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.

Why Give a Definition of Christian Persecution?


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

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

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

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

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

In our own culture, consider how important it is to define the word person. It has become a deadly word for babies developing in the womb because they have been excluded by definition from the semantic range of the word person. So, you see, subtle changes in the definition of words can have cataclysmic long term effects for us. Definitions are exceedingly important.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Should Christians Flee Persecution?


In June of 1982, The Clash released (on Cassette) their only song to reach #1, the punk rock classic, “Should I Stay or Should I Go.” The song was neither toward nor about anyone in particular. Its staying power rests on its ability to speak to so many situations in general. It even speaks (in general) to a question that Christians must answer in relation to persecution: When should the persecuted stay, and when should they go?

Persecution Stay or GoIn one instance, the Apostle Paul agreed to be hidden in a basket and clandestinely lowered out of the city in order to escape the persecution awaiting him (2 Cor 11:31-33), while, in yet another instance, this same Paul refused to leave prison even after the guards told him he was being released (Acts 16:35ff).  How did he know when to stay and when to go?

This question plagues ministries today who seek to help our persecuted brothers and sisters around the world. In the latest issues of Christianity Today, Kate Tracy explores this very question in relation to the work of Barnabas Fund in Sudan. Since 2012, Barnabas Fund (a non-profit ministry based in the UK which helps persecuted Christians) has committed a sizable portion of their budget to helping suffering Christians escape intense persecution in Sudan. Presently, they are working to free 3,400 Christians from Islamic Sudan.

The article notes the problem which arises through such extraction efforts. Lisa Jones, executive director of Christian Freedom International, says, “History has demonstrated that sometimes you end up creating a market for the problem.” Her point is that paying others to help Christians escape builds a market for holding Christians captive to the point that they want to escape. Christians become a commodity to be traded. While those who are redeemed obviously benefit by gaining their freedom, those not redeemed suffer a worse fate than before, as opportunists will always kidnap, torture, and oppress more Christians in the hopes of getting more money for their release. It makes for a difficult dilemma.

As The Clash note in their song,

If I go there will be trouble,

And if I stay it will be double.

There is no easy way to make the call. Should the Christians stay or should they go? Should Christian ministries help them leave or implore them to stay? The Bible gives no direct, one-size-fits-all solution. In Matthew 10:23, Jesus tells His followers to flee to the next city when they are persecuted at home. Yet, in many other contexts, He teaches that His followers must endure persecution—and are even blessed when they do so—on account of Him (cf. Matthew 5:10-12; Matthew 24:9-14).  The point seems to be that a Christian may either stay (to endure as a witness) or flee (to spread the gospel, as in Acts 8), but whichever decision is made, it must be made by faith, not fear. It must be made out of love for Christ, not fear of torment.  There is no fear in love, for perfect love casts out fear (1 John 4:18). Fear cannot be the motivator because cowards have no place in the kingdom of God (Rev. 21:8).

Gloriously, Christians past and present have displayed an invincible faith in the face of terrible suffering. It is not our place to judge the motives of those who flee by faith. As Todd Daniels says, “It’s not our decision as American Christians whether Christians in persecution choose to remain or flee.” Instead, we must remember both those who stay and those who flee to the next city, ministering at least through our prayers so that they will endure to the end.

The CT article closes with this powerful image from a Christian in Egypt who struggles with whether to stay or to go:

“We live in Egypt today with hearts full of peace and joy, realizing that even as we are on that boat, in the middle of the dark night in the middle of the high waves, Jesus will…show up walking on the waves.”

 

 

Christian Rappers Neither Disobedient nor Cowards


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Helpful Primer on Persecution


Christianity percentage by country

Christianity percentage by country (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

Recently, Nina Shea, was interviewed by Kathryn Jean Lopez of National Review. Nina is the director of the Center for Religious Freedom at the Hudson Institute. She is also co-author of a helpful book detailing the present state of persecution around the world:  Persecuted: The Global Assault on Christians.  

 

In the interview, Nina Shea points out that Christians are fleeing en masse from Iraq and Syria. And in Nigeria, Egypt, and Syria, Christians are being slaughtered by the thousands. She tells of one incident in which Christians were murdered while attending a Christian funeral. And, in another situation in Egypt, Nadia Mohammad Ali was arrested with her 5 children and sentenced to 15 years in prison for converting to Christianity.

 

The interview points out that little is being done to aid Christians. While Nina Shea (like her colleague Paul Marshall) pleads for political solutions to come forth from a so-far non-responsive Obama Administration, she is doing a favor for all Christians. All Christians are commanded to remember the persecuted as though in prison with them. My hope in posting this is that Christians will read the interview and get acquainted with the present state of persecution and, even more importantly, will begin praying for those Christians who are suffering in the name of Christ.

 

 

 

A Lamb and His Shepherd


A great man of God and a real hero for Christians in China, Pastor Samuel Lamb has departed this earth life to be with the Good Shepherd Himself. Pastor Lamb is now absent in the body, but present with the Lord. His life is an example to Christians of how to remain steadfast and faithful through intense persecution.

Samuel LambPastor Lamb shepherded a church which grew to more than 4,000. However, his congregation began as a small group of believers huddled around a recently-released convict. Pastor Lamb spent more than 20 years in Chinese prison camps. In fact, he was in prison when his wife died. He was not allowed to attend her funeral.

Though he suffered, he was never defeated. His “holy principle” for Chinese Christians was, “More persecution, more growth.” He did not fear suffering. From the beginning of his ministry, he maintained the practice of keeping a bag packed and ready to go so that any time the government arrested him, he could simply grab his bag and head back to prison.

What a great witness was Pastor Lamb for his flock. Along with Pastor Allen Yuan, Pastor Lamb was a pivotal figure in the Chinese church. His joy was contagious. We join with our brothers and sisters in Guanzhou (gwan*joe), China, to mourn the loss of this dear brother and celebrate the victory of our lord Jesus Christ.

Christians Should Be Politically Active


English: Portrait of a Gentleman (Mr. Wilberforce)

English: Portrait of a Gentleman (Mr. Wilberforce) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

In the wake of the Kermit Gosnell “Slaughter-gate” trial (and the appalling disinterest of many), there is a need for Christians to be reminded of our function as a pillar and support of the truth–a reminder of our calling to be salt and light in an otherwise dead and listless world.  The post below is a little lengthy for a typical blog post, but it is of vital importance for Christians seeking to answer the question of whether we ought to be “politically” active. Issues of human life transcend political parties.

 

The following principles are derived from Romans 13. The debt of love the Christian owes to others necessitates a level of involvement with the government.  There are at least four ways this obligation to love directs the Christian toward some involvement with government.

 

First, above all else, the Christian is obligated (and delighted) to love God (Matt 22:38).  If our hearts are given to love God, will we not wish for His goodness to be on display?  Will we not long to see men give him the honor due him?  If we are instructed to pay honor to those ordained by God to serve in authority, how much more do we pay honor to Him from whom their authority is derived?  The Christian longs to see God honored by all men, including men and women in positions of governance instituted by, bound to, and established ultimately for the glory of God.  Our love for God will include a longing to see Him exalted in all aspects of civil life: art, music, education, science, and government.  He is worthy of such exaltation by all men.  Though the pagan unbelievers will refuse to exalt Him, the church will surely so purely love Him that she will not fail to seek His glory in all the earth (including in the practice of government).

 

Second, the Christian is obligated to express his debt of love to governing authorities.  Love for God and love for neighbors means that the Christian loves those in positions of authority over him.  This love may take different forms in varying contexts, but it will always mean loving in the biblical sense of the word.  Biblical love is a love that honors God above all else and seeks the good of others.  It seems to me, in relation to governing authorities, that this love for God and for others will mean confronting governing authorities in areas which they are rebelling against God.  Governing authorities are put in place by God.  God has a certain standard by which all men (even kings) will be judged.

 

Christians, in their on-going devotion to God, ought to remind leaders of such things—seeking to see God glorified by all men (remember this is why John the Baptist lost his head).  In so doing, Christians are loving those in authority.  How loving would it be to remain silent while men set themselves on the destructive path of opposing God’s purposes?  Rulers in authority are not final authorities.  They will answer to God.  Pure love will not shrink back from declaring this reality, even as Christ did not shrink from declaring it to his earthly judge, Pilate: You would have no authority over Me, unless it had been given you from above, Jn 19:11.

 

Proper love expressed to those in authority may take either of two forms: humble service or humble disobedience.  The former example can be found in Paul’s admonition to Timothy, 1 Tim 2:1-2,

 

First of all then I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men, for kings and all who are in authority, in order that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity.  This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved, and to come to the knowledge of the truth.

 

The latter finds expression in the actions of Peter and John as recorded by Luke in Acts 4.  In this chapter, Peter and John obey the laws of the land and seek to live a godly life.  A part of living that godly life meant to them that they had to share the good news with others.  When this sharing of the good news was ordered out of bounds by the powers that be, Peter and John had to resolve a dilemma: Should they do what the legitimate authorities demanded, or should they do what God has called them to do?  The resolution was no small matter.  Two proper authorities were calling for their allegiance.  Given such a reality, the two men—for the sake of conscience and in a thorough form of love—determined they could not stop speaking the good news they had seen and heard:

 

“Whether it is right in the sight of God to give heed to you     rather than to God, you be the judge.”  For their part, Peter and John (just as for Shadrach, Meschach, and Abednego before them) chose to pay homage to God rather than to man when pushed to choose between the two.  Love for God must always come first.  In expressing such a devotion to the Living God, the men were, to be sure, loving those in authority as well.

 

This brings us to the third obligation of love bearing upon participation in government.  Namely, Christians owe their fellow man a debt of love.  This, I believe, is incredibly important.  Primarily, this obligation concerns the right handling of the word of God.  The Christian must be serious about proclaiming the gospel to the uttermost regions of the earth, including to the neighbor next door as occasions permit.  Gospel penetration is the means by which God is glorified and His laws are kept.  This obligation of preaching the gospel is primary and fundamental for the faithful Christian; this fact, however, is no final proof that the matter ought to end there for the Christian.  Christians love their fellow men and must not wish harm to come to them.  Christians—as the pillar and support of truth—must seek good for all men.  The best good, of course, is Christ Himself (hence our preaching).  But are there not other legitimate goods for which Christians ought to work very hard?

 

In a former generation of English Christians, William Wilberforce gave his life to see slavery end in England.  With a firm conviction that the glory of God was at stake in the practice of enslaving humans as chattel property, Wilberforce with John Newton and others devoted their energy to ending such an evil practice, a practice that denied slaves their status as being created in the image of God and insisted, instead, that they were more nearly related to the beasts of the jungle than to the Living God.  Should Wilberforce have sought election to parliament?  Ought he—under the debt of love—to have been so politically active?  In seeking to see slaves free, did Wilberforce and Newton subject the gospel to enslavement by a political movement?  No, they did not.  Rather, because of the gospel, they began a political movement and stayed with it to the end that men were set free to the glory of God.  Slavery was ended in England, and the movement was fueled for its fight in America.

 

And what about William Carey?  Should William Carey have simply stuck to his task of   preaching the gospel in India while the evils of abortion, infanticide, and euthanasia abounded to the destruction of countless souls?  It was Carey’s sincere Christian conviction that the debt of love he owed had something to say to these things.  As Timothy George records it,

 

“Carey admonished would-be missionaries that they should ‘take every opportunity of doing…good’ to the people among whom they intended to serve.  As we have seen, Carey never forgot that his primary mission was to proclaim God’s redemptive message of salvation to lost sinners.  This did not mean, however, that he lived out his ministry in a ‘gospel ghetto’ sequestered from the real hurts of humanity or the structural evils of Indian society.  Quite to the contrary. [sic] Carey and the Serampore missionaries threw themselves into social reform activities precisely because their commitment to Jesus Christ compelled them to do so,” (George, Faithful Witness, 149).

 

Carey found that his conscience would not allow him to remain silent while human beings were being slaughtered needlessly.  God’s image bearers were cast out, destroyed, and discarded with little regard.  This disregard for humanity was particularly acute in India in the practice of sati, a ritual in which a new widow would be burned alive with the body of her deceased husband in an effort to assure the blessings of the gods over the family.  Rather than shrinking back from this gruesome culture, Carey investigated the Hindu scriptures and showed the governing authorities that such practices were not mandated.  He publicized and spoke out against all of the cruel practices because of his debt of love.  What ought he to have done?

 

What about us?  Like Carey, we must maintain the priority of the preaching of the gospel.  About that, there can be no doubt.  Did Jesus Himself not do more than preach the gospel?  Did He not also live it?  Did he not challenge authority where it was putting burdens on people too hard for them to bear, as in Matthew 23:4?  Biblically speaking, love—along with the biblical imperative to do good before the government—calls the Christian to speak the truth, challenging authorities when they oppose the will of God and taking up the cause of the oppressed, the widow, the orphan, the elderly, the unborn.  We might wish to think it more sanitary and acceptable to God not to intermingle the gospel with government, but government is God’s idea.  And I wonder what our silence might say?  When, as the people of God, we say nothing to the world as they slaughter infants and quietly murder the elderly, what are we saying?  It is often said that silence is golden.  Might it not also be deadly?

 

Finally, the fourth debt of love taken from Romans 16 is the love we owe to ourselves.  Love, by its nature, is given over to another.  Yet, as when Jesus gives the greatest commandments to love (Matthew 22:37-39), the commandment to love is predicated upon the reality of self love.  Self love does not have to be nurtured as does love for God and love for others. Self-love simply needs to be transformed and enlarged.  We have love for ourselves from the beginning of our lives.  What we need to learn is how our love for ourselves involves others and, more importantly, God.

 

Can we understand the joy of love if we fail to express it to the watching world?  The practical rewards of loving others are not to be overlooked.  Showing love to women seeking abortions makes a better life for us.  When we exercise the above mentioned “loves” properly, we are properly loving ourselves and gaining a better life for ourselves (and for our neighbors).

 

As John Jefferson Davis puts it, “Civil laws that are consistent with the teachings of Scripture point society to a higher standard of righteousness, which is fulfilled only in Jesus Christ.  Such laws remain a worthy object of Christian concern and social action,” (Evangelical Ethics, 26).

 

For these reasons, which I believe are biblical, I cannot imagine that we can withdraw from the political process entirely.  I do not think that would pay proper honor to God’s established authorities over us, and I do not think that it would at all honor God.  Rather, I think the work before us is to determine what shape our involvement with those in authority will take.  What are the best ways for us to be involved?

 

We are in a position in which we must help our people think through these issues and understand them biblically.  Silence is not an option.  Neither is withdrawal.  I understand that we must be careful to preserve the primacy and supremacy of the gospel.  Indeed, I believe the message of Jesus Christ—the gospel—has everything to say to culture in disarray. In all things, I know that we must exalt Christ and glorify the living God.  So, my prayer is that we will work together to do just that—to do good and to fulfill our debt of love.

 

 

The Most Mistreated Minority in the World Is …


Crucifixion of St. Peter by Caravaggio. The ea...

Back in November, I wrote a blog post about German Chancellor Angela Merkel, in which it was noted that Merkel was taking a great deal of heat for claiming that Christians are the most persecuted group in the world.  That is not a headline that sells in America, as many folks still love to decry the “moral majority” of America’s past.

Nonetheless, time is proving Merkel right.  Studies have shown that Christians are harassed more than any religion in the Pew Study Religion Persecution Christianworld.  A new collaborative work by Paul Marshall, Lela Gilbert, and Nina Shea of the Hudson Institute covers the worldwide persecution of Christians in great detail.  The Book,  Persecuted: The Global Assault on Christians, is now in print.

The book demonstrates just how bad the problem is and how, particularly, Christians in the Middle East are being targeted for extinction with little concern from Americans in general and American Christians in particular. Kirsten Powers has written an article for USA Today which calls on Americans to speak out against the persecution of Christians in the Middle East. Here is an excerpt from the article:

Lebanon was once a majority Christian country but no longer, as Christians flee the hostility. CBS News reported in 2011 that the former president of Lebanon, Amin Gemayel complained of a “genocide” against Christians in the Middle East. “Massacres are taking place for no reason and without any justification against Christians. It is only because they are Christians.”

Christians are the most ill-treated religious minority in the world.  Without a doubt, Merkel, Powers, Shea, Gilbert, and Marshall are all speaking truth. The question for each of us is whether we will speak up with them on behalf of our brothers and sisters.  Will we do as the Lord commanded and “remember those who are ill-treated since we ourselves are in the body” (Hebrews 13:3)?

Take a prayerful look at the article from Kirsten Powers; the book from Shea, Gilbert, and Marshall; and the teachings of the New Testament and decide if you need to become an advocate for the persecuted church.

Go Cards!


No, this post is not about the once #1 (but now #12) Louisville Cardinals basketball team. Though the Cards are the local favorites, they are led by a coach I don’t particularly support. So, chances are, I won’t ever have much to say about those

Angelo Bagnasco

Cards. This post is about Cardinals, but not the ones in Louisville.  I’m not talking about the Cardinals in Arizona or St. Louis either. The former’s football season was over pretty much after week 5, while the latter’s baseball season has yet to begin.

This post is about cardinals of a different (and more serious) sort.  Specifically, I am speaking of Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco, the president of the Italian Bishops’ Conference who, in his opening remarks to the conference this past week, urged Roman Catholic leaders to remember the persecuted church. Cardinal Bagnasco surveyed the worldwide persecution of Christians, noting,

In too many countries, Christians are not allowed any sign of religious affiliation, except by camouflage or in hiding.

The Cardinal went on to say,

Those who suffer and die for Christ, do so for us, and they are our brothers regardless of the distance that divides us. In the mysterious economy through which the kingdom of God on earth is concretely woven, communion with these situations of martyrdom gives truth and vigor to our pastoral work, today focused on re-evangelizing the lands that have long known the Gospel”.

Finally, the Cardinal urged (in accordance with Hebrews 13:3) to remember brothers and sisters who are suffering persecution. The Cardinal noted that such a memory revitalizes our faith, too. And he is right. Remembering those persecuted on behalf of Christ causes us to remember our own faith in Christ. Even more important, we are forced to remember Jesus Christ, the author and finisher of our faith who is undeniably present with those suffering on account of Him.

Thank you, Cardinal Bagnasco and Cardinal Bertone (who joined the call to remember the persecuted). May the Lord raise up an increasing number of Roman Catholic and Protestant leaders who call all followers of Christ to remember the persecuted.

Persecution Update from the Fall 2012


Church Icon at St Polycarp's Roman Catholic Ch...

Church Icon at St Polycarp’s Roman Catholic Church depicting Polycarp miraculously extinguishing fire of the city of Smyrna (Izmir, Turkey). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

2 Timothy 3:12, Indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted. 

 

Given the fact that God promises persecution to all Christians, it should be no surprise to us that Christians are routinely attacked around the world. The Assyrian International News Agency has chronicled by country some of the more intense situations of persecution from the fall of 2012. You can see their whole list on their website, but I have pasted a partial list below:

 

KenyaA grenade was thrown into the Sunday school building of St. Polycarp Anglican Church, blowing off the roof, killing one boy and injuring eight other children attending Sunday school, including some requiring surgery. The attack came soon after a Somali member of the Islamic terrorist organization Al Shabab, who had earlier targeted four other churches, was sentenced to prison after he confessed to planning attacks on Parliament. According to the mother of one of the children, “We are in Eastleigh [a region with a large Somali population]. Many Christians, including myself, thought that something might happen. Every week we’d wonder ‘What if it’s this Sunday?’ But we’d still go to church.” Likewise, a parliament member said, “The life of an innocent child has been taken and others have been cruelly injured and traumatised in what should be the safest of places. The sanctity of life has been heartlessly breached in a sanctified place. Such acts seem to be designed to spark civil unrest and intimidate the Christian church. In the face of such an outrage we ask, with the prophet Habakkuk, ‘O Lord, how long?’ and let us trust that God in his mercy will bring justice and relief as we cry out to him.”

 

Nigeria: Thousands of Christians continue to flee northern areas of Nigeria, which are predominantly Muslim, and where the jihadi organization Boko Haram holds sway, after a renewed spate of church attacks. An Islamic suicide bomber rammed an SUV loaded with explosives into St. Rita Catholic Church holding Sunday Mass killing eight people and wounding more than 100. One “journalist saw the bodies of four worshippers lying on the floor of the church after the blast, surrounded by broken glass. The body of the suicide bomber had been blasted into nearby rubble.” The church building was devastated and charred black. Also, the Church of Brethren was raided by Islamic gunmen who killed at least two people and set the church ablaze. Many churches are shutting down in fear of further attacks.

 

Pakistan: The Catholic Church of St. Francis, the oldest of the archdiocese of Karachi, was attacked by a Muslim mob of 600, who destroyed property but did not manage to break through the front door. According to a priest: “Fr. Victor had just finished celebrating a wedding, when he heard noises and shouting from the compound of the church. Immediately all the faithful, women and children were sent to the parish house. The radicals, shouting against the Christians, broke into the building and started devastating everything: cars, bikes, vases of flowers. They broke an aedicule and took the statue of the Madonna. They tried to force the door of the church, throwing stones at the church and destroying the windows.” Police arrived an hour later, giving the terrorists plenty of time to wreak havoc. The Archbishop of Karachi lamented that “the church of San Francesco has always served the poor with a school and a medical clinic run by nuns. For nearly 80 years it carries out a humble service to humanity without any discrimination of caste, ethnicity or religion. Why these acts? Why are we not safe? 

 

Syria: Two churches were attacked. One bomb was detonated near the historical gate of Bab Touma (“Thomas’ Doorway”) which is largely populated by the nation’s Christian minority. The bomb exploded as people were going to their churches for Sunday Mass; up to 10 people were killed. “Terrorists are doing this,” said George, a Christian who, like many residents in Bab Touma, lives in fear of the rebel fighters trying to gain control of the capital. Another car bomb exploded in front of the only Syrian Orthodox Church in the town of Deir Ezzor, currently under opposition control. Five people near the church were killed. In September the same church was desecrated and vandalized by armed gangs.

 

 

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.

Good Work Is Never Vain


God promises us triumph for the Christian (1 Corinthians 15). There is a victory already won (even if not fully realized) for all those who are alive in Christ. One of the great promises which attends this victory of Christ is implicit in 1 Corinthians 15:58:

Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord.

It may be true that Christians are killed for their faith, but they will never suffer loss (Luke 21:18). The second death never

Pakistan Persecution Christian

Shahbaz Bhatti

hurts the Christian, and, as the exhortation of 1 Corinthians 15:58 reminds us, the believer’s work is never lost. Fashion, fame, and fortune can and will be lost, but faith in Christ never ends in vain.

I am reminded of this reality today, reading the story of Rimsha Masih. She became famous this past summer after she was accused of violating Pakistan’s blasphemy laws. Rimsha, an 11 year-old suffering from some mental disabilities, was ultimately acquitted of all charges and released. Unfortunately, neither she nor her family feels safe in Pakistan. Even with her fear, she continues to persevere in good works, writing letters to religious leaders around the world (like Pope Benedict XVI) and encouraging Christians to remember those Christians who are in prison for their faith, as though in prison with them. Surely, Rimsha’s faith is on display, and her good works will abound to all eternity.

Even more encouraging, however, is the on-going work of Shahbaz Bhatti. Bhatti—at the time of his assassination—was the only Christian in the official cabinet of the Pakistani government.  Before he was killed, Bhatti founded the All Pakistani Minority Alliance (APMA). It was this organization which spearheaded the efforts to save Rimsha. In addition to writing letters to Christians around the world, Rimsha has also taken time this Christmas to thank the APMA for their help in getting her released.

The APMA is now being operated by Paul Bhatti, brother of the slain founder, Shahbaz Bhatti. As Christ promised, Bhatti’s work has not proven vain. May the Lord continue to bless and multiply the good works from Christians like Masih and Bhatti.