Thoughts on Death and Suffering


What is it with all this death and suffering in our world?  Has science not yet eradicated the inimitable Grim Reaper? In the age of nuclear medicine and MRI’s, we seem to be capable of better identifying the diseases which cause our suffering, but we still can’t seem to eliminate the pains. And as for death, well the funeral business hasn’t died.

Suffering, dying, and death are part of this created life. Since the Fall (in Genesis 3), humankind has been placed under a curse so heavy that it causes many to curse God (ask Job’s wife, Job 2:9).  But for those who are in Christ, the burden of death has been lifted (even if the process of it still lingers in place). Jesus took on flesh and blood so that He might taste death for His followers. He swallowed death’s poison, draining death’s cup. Then, He showed it had no power, as He triumphantly rose from the tomb. Thus, Christ delivered us who had once lived under the power and fear of death.

The writer of Hebrews says it this way:

“Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise also partook of the same, that through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and might free those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives” (Hebrews 2:14-15).

Christians are free from the slavery of death. That being the case, why does death still wreak havoc over our emotions?  Why does it still haunt us and threaten us? We fear dying, and we still fear having our loved ones die. Why? Two reasons come to mind.

First, we are ultimately weak in the flesh. Though we build ourselves up pretentiously with great strength, we are always brought uncomfortably low in the face of death. Death shatters our illusions of strength. We see very big, strong, and tough men weep under the burden of death. Death shows no pity, no remorse—just raw power to shut down hopes and dreams and plans.  Death is an uncommonly powerful foe. This fact is not lost on the evil one who intends to wield the power of death to keep our weakness out front. He hopes to keep us forever weak by reminding us of death’s strength.

God, too, uses death to expose our weakness, but He does not seek to trap us in the bondage of despair. He shows us His strength through Christ and the Resurrection.  God knows our frames that we are but dust. He knows our weakness. He does not seek to exploit it as Satan does. Instead, He seeks to expose it to show us the full-on power of the gospel of our Lord which culminates in His defeat of death through the Resurrection and ascension to the throne of Heaven.  God has a place for death to display the perfection of His great power toward all who believe. The gospel is the power of God (Romans 1).

So, second, we fear death because we forget God’s perfect power.  His power is on display through Christ’s victory over death.  The perfection of His power is on display through our faith, as we suffer through the consequences of death.  Nowhere in Scripture does God minimize the power of death. There is no greater foe. Death is the last enemy of God to be eradicated.

We must deal with death.  The only way to deal with it faithfully is to believe the Christ who reigns victoriously over it.  Notice, the key is not to believe “in” the Christ (that’s the way we normally hear it phrased). The key is to believe Him. He claims to have rendered death powerless.  Believe that He has taken away its power.

In believing that Christ has taken away death’s power, we have reason to trust Him with every death. Every death is now redeemed.  There is a redemptive order to all things (1 Corinthians 15:22-28).  God promises that He works all things together for the good of those who love Him, those called according to His purposes. Surely, such redemptive promises can be trusted because they are secured by the One who has overcome death.

Our response to death, then, is two-fold. First, we believe Christ has actually defeated it and taken away its power. Second, we believe that God is wise in His ordering of life and death events. In Isaiah 28, the prophet warns Judah of the judgment which is to come upon them. He implores the people to trust the wisdom of God.  Just as the farmer knows that “dill is beaten out with a rod, and cumin with a club,” so, too, God knows the best way to bring forth the grain harvest for His people through their suffering. There is a proper order to the events of harvest. We can trust the farmer to know how to bring out the grain. We can trust God to know how to bring forth the grain of victory through suffering and death. Christ is God’s proof.

Path to True Blessing?


How do you know when you are blessed?  On first blush, you might respond that you know you are blessed when you have peace with God and peace with your wife and family.  Many of us would think we are blessed when we have plenty of money.  We think that NFL players who get paid 6 million bucks a year to catch passes are the ones who are blessed.

But what about Abera Ongeremu, is he blessed?  Ongeremu—a traveling evangelist—was visiting at a church in Olenkomi, Ethiopia, when members of the Orthodox Church there stormed the evangelical church building in which he was staying. They ordered him to burn his Bible.  He replied that he would not burn the word of life. So, they decided to burn him.  They tied his hands, poured diesel all over the room, started the fire, and locked the doors.  Ongeremu was certain this was his day to die, but his persecutors weren’t satisfied that their diabolical scheme was a sufficient outpouring of torture.  Thus, they dragged him back out of the burning church and beat him until he fell unconscious on the ground.  He did not die that day (you can read his story here).

Would we call Ongeremu blessed, or cursed.  According to the Scriptures, Jesus calls this man blessed:

Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 5:10).

I doubt that we mean for anything like this to happen to others when we say to them, “God bless you.”  Indeed, when we seek the Lord’s favor and ask for His blessing, we are not at all hoping to be treated by the world the way Ongeremu was treated.  Quite the opposite, in fact, we are usually hoping that the blessing will cause the world to look on us with favor (thus giving us the job, the award, the contract, the admission to the school, etc.).

In the New Testament, however, persecution is a blessing.  “Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me” (Matthew 5:11).  As we contemplate persecution (and the persecuted) we realize that blessedness is something more than (and something strangely different from) what we had imagined.  Blessedness is directly related to relationship to Christ—not to material prosperity.  The Lord does not say “rejoice and be glad” when you become rich.  Instead, He warns that it is hard for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven (cf. Matthew 19:24).  But Jesus does tell us when we are persecuted that we should “rejoice and be glad” for our reward in heaven is great.  This is, in fact, the way it has always been for the people of faith (Matthew 5:12).

To be blessed means to be in the presence of Christ.  Or, more specifically, it means that Christ is present with you (Matthew 28:20).  Such divine presence tends to make one invincible.  It means to be in right relationship to the Living God.   When we are made alive in Christ, no death will be a final threat to us. We cannot be threatened with death or any of death’s allies because death only promises to bring us nearer into the presence of Christ.  To be absent in the body is to be present with the Lord (2 Cor 5:8).  In Christ, we, too, are blessed like Ongeremu and will never be defeated.

 

Maybe Some Good News from Iran


According to the Jubilee Campaign, there is good news from Iran.  Pastor Youcef will not be executed for being a Christian in Iran.  The report makes it unclear exactly what will happen next. It almost sounds as though he will be asked to deny Christ and return to Islam in order to have the charges dropped. I hope that is not the case.  We prayed for Youcef this past Sunday, and I am very glad to hear this report.  We should continue to pray.  Here is the update from Jubilee Campaign:

Iran annuls death term for Christian pastor: lawyer

TEHRAN (AFP): Iran’s supreme court has overturned a death sentence handed down to Yusef Nadarkhani, a Christian pastor accused of apostasy for having converted from Islam, his lawyer told AFP on Sunday.

“The supreme court has annulled the death sentence and sent the case back to the court in Rasht (his hometown), asking the accused to repent,” Mohammad Ali Dadkhah said.

Nadarkhani, now 32, converted from Islam to Christianity at the age of 19 and became a pastor of a small evangelical community called the Church of Iran.

He was arrested in October 2009 and condemned to death for apostasy under Iran’s Islamic Sharia laws, which however allow for such verdicts to be overturned if the convicted person “repents” and renounces his conversion.

After his conviction was upheld by an appeal court in Gilan province in September 2010, Nadarkhani turned to the supreme court. His wife, who was initially sentenced to life imprisonment, was released on appeal.

The lawyer said the verdict had been read out to him on the telephone and that he needed to travel to Rasht, where Nadarkhani is being held, to see the ruling for himself.

Dadkhah said he himself was sentenced on Sunday by a Tehran court to nine years in jail and a 10-year ban on practicing law or teaching at university for “actions and propaganda against the Islamic regime”.

The lawyer said he had been criticised for having cooperated with the Centre for the Defence of Human Rights, an organisation founded by Nobel peace laureate Shirin Ebadi, as well as for giving interviews to foreign radio stations.

“I have 20 days to lodge an appeal,” he said.

A Painfully Good Question


Persecution in the Philippines

I will be out of the country for a few weeks, but I wanted to leave you with a painfully good question that comes to us from a Jew:

“Why don’t Christians help Christians?”

The question was asked by Dennis Prager with reverent concern for the health of American Christianity.  His article (read it here) asks why Christians are not more vocal about the plight of their brothers and sisters in the Middle East.

Prager recounts how he has long been an activist on behalf of suffering Jews in Russia, and he acknowledges that Christians have been staunch allies along the way.  However, Christians never have seemed too active on behalf of other Christians.  And now, Christians are largely silent in the face of brutal oppression throughout the Middle East.  So, Prager asks, “Why don’t Christians help other Christians?”

I wish I knew the answer.  The cynic in me wants to respond hastily with severe condemnation: Christians don’t help because they don’t care about anything beyond their own personal peace and affluence (to borrow a phrase from Francis Schaeffer).  Christians are more intent on tapping into some secret prayer of power and clout which guarantees them money and fun than they are intent on understanding the global body of Christ.

Cynicism–though sometimes true–is almost always too simplistic and overly abrasive.  While some Christians may not care, the truth is many Christians do not even know.  When they find out, they respond with concern and generosity.  Ignorance, I believe, is a bigger factor than unconcern.

Yet, even ignorance can be malicious, as is indicated by Jesus’s teaching in Matthew 25.  At the end of time when Christ returns, he will judge all men, putting the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.  To this judgment, men will cry, “When did we see you hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not take care of you?”  Obviously, they are ignorant of having neglected Jesus, but Jesus does not excuse their ignorance; instead, he assigns them to a place of eternal punishment.  Ignorance is no excuse.

By and large, Christians are ignorant of the plight of their persecuted brothers and sisters.  The picture, as Prager paints it, is not an encouraging one:

In the Muslim world, Christians are being murdered, churches are being torched, entire ancient Christian communities — the Iraqi and Palestinian, for example — are disappearing. And, again, 2 billion Christians react with silence. There are some Christian groups active on behalf of persecuted Christians around the world. They do important work, and are often the primary source of information on persecuted Christians. But they would be the first to acknowledge that the Christian world is overwhelmingly silent when it comes to the persecution of Christians in the Muslim world.

Christians are not doing enough for other Christians.  Why are Christians silent? Again, I don’t know. I am thinking about this and other questions as I embark on a three-week adventure that will take me close (but not into) Muslim dominated areas, where Christians are facing persecution (see map above).  I want to understand why American Christians are concerned for the environment, the White House, and the latest book by the nearest evangelical heretic, but we remain largely unaffected by the body of Christ still suffering.

“Remember the [persecuted Christian] prisoners, as though in prison with them, and those who are ill-treated, since you yourselves are in the body” (Hebrews 13:3).

[May the Lord bless us to obey Hebrews 13:3]

C. T. Studd


In 1882, Australia beat England in a Test cricket match for the first time on British soil. A satirical obituary was written, proclaiming the death of British cricket. As the legend goes, a cricket bail was burned to ashes and placed in an urn.  Now, each time the two teams play, the meeting is considered a quest to regain the ashes.  Thus, the tradition of the Ashes was born.

One of the best batsmen in England during that original Ashes cricket match was a man named Charles Studd.  Unfortunately for England, Studd’s batting partner, Ted Peate, was bowled out before Studd could get the remaining few runs needed to secure England’s victory, thus allowing Australia to capture the Ashes.

[Click Here] to continue the biography of this fascinating man.

Out of the New Egypt


In his mid-twenties, Mikail Nabil has determined to make his life count. Like many Americans of the same age, Mr. Nabil spends his days keeping his friends and followers up to date through his blog posts and social networks.  And, also like many Americans, Mr. Nabil is not afraid to share his political views.  Unlike Americans his age, Mr. Nabil is now in prison for three years because of his activities.

Mikail Nabil is a Christian living in Egypt.  He has used the internet to voice his concerns about the direction of the “New Egypt.” Of particular concern for him is the manner in which the Army in Egypt appears to be violating human rights, especially the rights of other Christians. The violations include excessive violence against protesters, torture of prisoners being detained, and forced pelvic exams for all the young woman.  (These are not medical exams but “virginity tests” conducted by the soldiers).

In being arrested for telling the truth to the world, Mikail Nabil is being called “the first prisoner of conscience in Egypt after the revolution.” Undoubtedly, he is, considering that he is the first Egyptian arrested for his internet speech. Yet, he won’t be the last.  He is only the latest Christian to be arrested in Muslim Egypt. Many have gone before him, and, apparently, many will follow after in the not-so “new Egypt.”

Should We Pray for Satan?


Should the Christian pray for Satan?  If anyone stands in need of prayer it is Satan.  He is facing the most awful form of eternal torment for his role in leading humans astray and in fueling the flames of rebellion against the Creator and against his redeemer.  Satan is referred to as the father of lies who speaks in lies and deals out murder.  This lying and murdering comes forth from him because it was his nature from the beginning (John 8:44).  Satan is a creature without hope of reclamation.  There are two reasons that Christians ought not to pray for him.

First, prayers for Satan would prove to be futile in the end.  Satan will remain true to his nature for eternity.  God has not purposed to remedy his condition but, rather, to punish it through the eternal exercise of his justice.  Satan was a murderer and the father of lies from the beginning, and he will prove to be so to the end.  There is an eternal fire of judgment already prepared for Satan, and to that eternal destruction he will most assuredly go (Matthew 25:41; Revelation 20:10).  We have the Word of God assuring us of what Martin Luther sang regarding Satan: “Lo, his doom is sure. One little word shall fell him.”  The Word of God will put Satan under Jesus’ feet forever (Hebrews 1:13; 10:12-13).  So, why pray against what God has already revealed as  certain to take place?

Likewise, a second response follows up this line of thinking.  If God has declared that Satan’s doom is sure, then this determination is also the will of God.  Christians dare not pray against the will of God.  Nowhere are Christians instructed to pray for Satan against the will of God.  Instead, Christians are instructed in many strategies by which they can overcome the power and influence of the devil.

Christians are instructed, for instance, to resist the devil so that he will flee (James 4:7).  In context, this instruction means at least that Christians are to draw near to God as a means of resisting demonic influence.  Drawing near in this passage appears to be related to obedience.  Likewise, Christians are instructed to take up faith as a shield in order to extinguish the devil’s fiery missiles (Ephesians 6:16).  And again, Christians are to be transformed by the renewing of their minds.  They are to take every thought captive in obedience to Christ as a means of breaking down the strongholds of Satan (2 Corinthians 10:3-5).

These and other strategies are to be employed by the Christian in his fight to remain safe against the attacks of Satan (1 Peter 5:8-9).  As Christians employ these strategies, they demonstrate faith.  They believe what God’s word says about Satan and about their own vulnerability to his attacks.  The safest ground in this fight is ground which Christ has already claimed.  So, the Christian will stay close to Christ, giving Satan no audience.  The Christian must always keep his eyes fixed on Jesus, the author and finisher of faith. He cannot afford to glance away from Christ even long enough to say a prayer for Satan; it is too dangerous.  So, stay fixed on Jesus.

One final comment still seems in order.  Though Satan is a defeated enemy, and the matter with him is fixed and firm, that same kind of finality does not exist with human beings trapped under his power or dead to Christ on account of the curse.  Christians are—as your question points out—instructed to pray for their enemies.  Jesus taught that Christians are to love their enemies and pray for those who persecute them, thus proving to be children of their heavenly father.  Such instruction is significant in light of John 8:44.  Everyone has a spiritual father.  Love for others—even for enemies—is an indication of heavenly fatherhood.

The Apostle Paul echoes these sentiments, saying, “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them” (Romans 12:14).  Paul (a former persecutor himself) understood all too well that a persecutor might yet be claimed for the kingdom of Christ.  The faithful witness of those persecuted might prove to be powerful to save human beings who persecute Christians.  Yet, even with his background, and even with his command for Christians to bless their persecutors, Paul still says plainly in this same chapter: “hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good.”  So, while Paul may say we ought to pray for those persecuting us, he would still say to hate Satan who is evil. Cling to Christ, who is good.

Instead of praying for Satan, Jesus taught us to pray daily that our heavenly Father would protect us from the evil one (Matthew 6:13). That prayer, then, is the safest and best prayer of all.

Why the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil?


Recently, a friend and brother in Christ bombarded me with a dozen or so questions pertaining to aspects of the Christian faith which have recently been puzzling him.  I asked and received permission from him to post my responses here on this blog, thinking that if he has these questions, then others may have them also. So, I will be posting his questions and my responses in the coming days, hoping to help and encourage him and you. Feel free to add your responses and to send in your questions as well.

QUESTION 1

Why Did God Choose to Put the Tree of Life and the Tree of Knowledge in the Garden of Eden?

Interesting question. The smart aleck in me wants to answer, “Where else would you want Him to put them?”  But I know better than to mock an honest question!  Besides, we will see in just a moment that the two trees had to be at the center of the Garden.

If I understand the question rightly, then you are asking something like, “Why tempt Adam and Eve like this?”  Why is there both a tree of life and a tree of knowledge of good and evil?

I think the answer is simply profound. God takes ordinary elements and speaks profound life lessons through them (think of Jesus with bread and wine).  The two trees are named.  Notice the difference in the names.  The one is the tree of life, but the other is not the tree of death.  These two trees do not represent two ways to life; they only represent one way to live.  In other words, the two trees are not opposites.  Adam and Eve could not be tempted with death.  They had no desire for death, no appetite for death.  So, the second tree in the Garden is not the tree of death; it is the tree of knowledge of good and evil.

Why is this important? It underscores the nature of God, the nature of Adam and Eve, and the nature of the Fall.  Adam, Eve, and all of creation were created by God and declared “very good” (Gn 1:31).  Adam and Eve were not stuck in neutral, deciding whether to live or die. They weren’t caught in the balance between sinning and not sinning.  They were, in fact, good.  They were walking in fellowship with God.  They would not have been tempted to murder each other like their offspring were.  That would have been contrary to their natures.

However, it would not have been contrary to their natures to become more god-like.  They had a right desire for fellowship with God.  Therefore, becoming more god-like suited them like breast milk suits the nursing infant.  The tree of the knowledge of good and evil represented an increase in knowledge, an increase in wisdom, and an increase in understanding more of what God understood.  Surely, God Himself possessed infinite knowledge of good and evil.  So, for Adam and Eve to learn more of the knowledge God possessed would have been “natural” to them.

By nature, Adam and Eve would have been drawn to pursuing knowledge which would make them know more of what God knows.  And yet, this increase in knowledge was not good for them.  They knew that because God told them that it was not good for them.  He spoke a command against their partaking of the fruit from this tree.  So, in effect, Adam and Eve’s temptation came disguised in the form of two different good choices, each of which was according to their nature: Obeying God or seeking knowledge.

Adam and Eve had been given the responsibility of ruling over creation.  They needed knowledge suitable for the task.  They needed to understand animals and agriculture.  They needed to understand water, nutrients, harvests, and horticulture.  They needed to stay hungry for knowledge.  So, they were obviously able to be tempted through this otherwise good aspect of their nature as lords over creation.

They did not need the knowledge of evil in order to accomplish the work God had given them.  They could have had a very fruitful life (literally!) by tending the Garden and enjoying fellowship with God.  They needed knowledge, for sure, but they did not need the knowledge of evil. Instead, what they needed more than anything else was to depend upon the living God.  So, the first tree God gave them was the Tree of Life (Gn 2:9).  If they had eaten of that tree, continuing to rely upon God for their very lives, they would have lived.

Instead, they ate of the forbidden tree which instantly gave them the knowledge of evil (namely, their own!).  They immediately learned of their nakedness.  They were immediately ashamed.  And they immediately had the sentence of death hanging upon them.  Instantly, they went from being alive to needing salvation.  The instant one forgets his dependence upon his creator, he stands in desperate need of a redeemer.

So, the answer to your question is that God put the two trees in the center of the Garden of Eden to proclaim the central truth to Adam and Eve (and to all humankind) that He alone is the creator and sustainer of life.  In addition, the Lord used the two trees further to display His unspeakable mercy.  Even after Adam and Eve rebelled against Him and unleashed on themselves the curse of death, still, God acted mercifully toward them, sending them out of the Garden and sealing it off before they could eat of the Tree of Life.  If they had eaten of the Tree of Life after they partook of the forbidden tree, they would likely have sealed the death sentence on humankind forever.  God’s purpose was not to allow that; instead, God had purposed from the beginning to provide salvation.  So, he removed them from the Garden.

On a final note, God planted both trees in the center of the Garden to make known His glory to all humankind.  He did not need to “wait and see” what would happen with Adam and Eve.  He knew before they were created how it would all turn out.  Thus, his choice of the trees was not coincidental.  He ordered all of it so that His glory would be revealed—even through the sinfulness of Adam and Eve.

God put the two trees in the middle of the Garden—the central focal point of all creation.  The two trees stood at the center of the universe.  Life flowed forth throughout the rest of creation from this very central point (see Gn 2:10-14).  At the center of creation was the single question, “Who is God?”  A very close question, related to the first, was, “Who is man?”  These two questions were hanging in the air like ripened fruit on two different trees in the midst of the Garden of Eden.  Both questions were quickly answered in the Fall.  As it turns out, God is holy, just, and merciful.  Man is sinful, under a curse, and in need of redemption.  That, I believe, is why God put the two trees in the midst of Eden. To answer the two most basic questions of life.

Prayer and Fasting 2


Fasting:

I had a friend once who was greatly confused by God’s inaction. My friend had fasted for 40 hours in relation to a job he was pursuing. At the end of the fast, he learned that someone else got the job.  His disbelief at another candidate being promoted turned into something of a crisis for this young man. He didn’t understand how he could be so zealous for God and have it come to nothing.

Yet, fasting is not about our proving to God how serious we are about life—or even about faith.  God doesn’t need for us to testify about what is in us because he already knows what is in us, and he knows it better than we do (John 2:24-25).  So, my friend was a little confused about the nature and purpose of Christian fasting.  Fasting is not a means by which we can obligate God to act on our behalf. Rather, fasting is a means given to us by God to subjugate the flesh so we will act on God’s behalf.  In other words, fasting does not prove our faith, it improves our faith.  Fasting does not turn God’s will toward us; rather, it turns our wills toward Him.

Think of Jesus’s remarks in Luke 18 concerning the manner in which God views the righteous Pharisee in contrast with the manner in which He receives the unrighteous tax collector.  On the one hand, the Pharisee didn’t simply fast every week, he fasted two times every week without fail. How would the tax collector compete with that level of righteousness?  He wouldn’t compete with Pharisaical righteousness.  All the tax collector could bring before God was his own sin and the desperate desire he had to be rid of it.  The Pharisee was glad that he wasn’t like the tax collector, but such gladness did nothing to endear him to God. Indeed, Jesus taught that the sinner went home justified, while the Pharisee went home a self-righteous sinner who fasted twice a week in vain.

Fasting does not improve God’s disposition toward us.  Instead, it is designed by God to improve our own disposition toward Him.  Fasting changes us, while God remains the same yesterday, today, and forever.  In Him, there is no variation or shifting shadow.  Instead of changing God, fasting is designed to change us.

More specifically, fasting is designed to change our desires and our appetites and our hunger.  When we fast, we come face to face with the power our flesh has over us.  If you have gone a day or two without eating, then you will know what I mean.  The first few hours after skipping breakfast, you still feel all right and think, “I’ve got this. No problem.”  Fasting even feels good at first because it gives you a sense of righteousness, knowing that you are doing the right thing and God must be pleased.

But then, all of a sudden, it seems that God must be turning on you because everything starts to go wrong.  Your head hurts. You have no sense of satisfaction.  Instead, a sense of near panic enters in, and you wonder why you are doing this.  Your body is crying out for sugar.  Your head is shouting for caffeine.  Your stomach and intestines are crying for nutrients.  Of course, God isn’t turning on you; everything inside of you is in rebellion against you.  You find out your body hates you, and it is screaming that you’d better find a solution to this problem quickly.

In the heat of the battle, you find God’s design for fasting—to bring your body into obedience to Christ.  When your body is screaming at you, you are ready for spiritual battle.  You pray that you will hunger for holiness the way your body hungers for food.  Even as Jesus taught, you begin to understand more clearly what it means that you are not to live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.  So, you confess that you want your true food to be the word of God rather than that which goes into the stomach only to go out again.  You want to put in the word and feed upon it so that you are full of Godliness, not fleshly desires.

Fasting is an opportunity for you to focus both your body and your mind on the will of God.  It is designed to build into you an appetite for God the way that you obviously keep an appetite for food.

So, then, is it wrong to ask God for things while you are fasting?  No, it isn’t wrong, but your asking must fit in with the purpose of fasting.  What does that mean?

Well, think of it this way, when we pray for the lost, we aren’t saying, “God, I am really serious about this person being saved.  You see how I am fasting?  Then, surely, you must hear my prayer and save this person because I am really serious about seeing them saved.”  That kind of prayer would be more in line with the Pharisee than with the tax collector who went home justified.  Rather, the prayer that we would pray for the lost is, “Lord, I confess that I have never hungered for the souls of others to be saved the way I am hungry now for food. Oh, change me, Lord, that I might have the right desire to see Christ glorified in the salvation of sinners. Oh, bless me Lord with the right affections so that I might join all of Heaven as the shouts go out at the repentance of ___________.  Save him for Christ’s sake, O God, and let me have a part in it according to your will.”

Prayer and Fasting 1


Our church has just begun a three-week prayer and fasting campaign for our community. We long to see Christ exalted in our county.  We are hungry for souls captured in sin to be set free.  We are not blind to our own shortcomings either.  So, in weakness, we submit ourselves before the Almighty in the hope of his all-sufficient supply to empower us.

Prayer:

Why are we praying? We are praying because the living God is real.  We make no religious pretense about

Christians Praying for the Persecuted

prayer. We join no cultural cliché when we announce to someone, “I am praying for you.” What we mean by that line is nothing less than the fact that we have an audience with the king of the universe. Further, we mean that when we are granted access to his presence and even offered permission to speak to him, we will be sure to speak to him about their cause.

Imagine what we are saying when we say that we will pray.  Have you ever met a very famous person?  Typically, we live our lives and never get alone in a room with the people we admire most. How hard would it be to gain access to Peyton Manning, President Obama, or Sarah Palin?  (I understand you may not want to have access to some or all of these, but stick with the point).  It would be quite difficult for us to demand an audience with any of them, or with any of our evangelical leaders. Could we call John Piper or R. C. Sproul on the phone at any hour?  Important people offer very limited access.

How much more important than any of these—or than all of these combined—is the God who created them and who sustains their every breath?  If you were to speak with any of these mentioned (or with your own favorite person of fame), what would you say?  You finally get alone in a room with them, and what will you ask?

I remember I once ended up in a bookstore with John Piper. I hated to interrupt him, knowing that alone time in public is probably a rarity for him.  Yet I also knew that I would never be alone with John Piper again.  So, I had to make the most of the opportunity. I decided I had to learn something from him. I had to gain wisdom from him in this instant, providential encounter. So, what would I ask him?

I asked him what I should do about people in the church who have no joy.  Without being callous, his reply was simply that I had to outlast them.  His point was that joy will spread, but it will also be opposed. Some folks are born as wet blankets, and they are very good at fighting fires. Their gifts are useful when the burning fire is destroying kingdom work, but their gifts are harmful when the burning fire is fueling kingdom labors.  So, Piper’s counsel was that I had to maintain an unshakable joy that would eventually come to characterize the congregation.  I remember he told me that leaven works both ways and that a little leaven (of joy) will eventually leaven the whole loaf.

Back to the point of this post, I have remained encouraged by the wonder-filled encounter I had with John Piper that day.  When I gained his attention, I cherished it. I was determined to extract the sweetest nectar of truth from it.  Yet, who is John Piper that I should be so in awe of his wisdom?  He is a great man, but I already possess greater access than any chance encounter Dr. Piper could match.  I have access to the living God through Jesus Christ.  I have a great high priest who intercedes for me.  I have been raised up and seated with him so that I can have an audience with Almighty Holiness.  What will I say in His presence?

I will give over this awesome privilege to plead with him to show mercy to a few people with whom I intend to share Christ.  These are not wealthy people. These are not influential people.  These are not people who will enrich the kingdom or enhance the marketing image for kingdom advertisements (if there were such awful things).  These are people no better than I am.  These are people who have, in fact, rebelled against God.  These are people with whom He is rightfully angry.

And yet, I am asking God not to be angry with them any longer. I am asking him to inject faith into their hearts to believe Jesus Christ.  I am asking God to be gracious to them and not condemn them along with the rest of the world (which is condemned already).  Why should God listen to me? Why should he give a care about my concerns? Why should he hear me and turn from his anger against them?

He shouldn’t. There is no reason I can think of which would explain why God should hear me on behalf of other sinners.  And yet, I have his word that he will in fact hear me for Christ’s sake. I have his word that I can make my requests known to him and know that he cares for me as a father cares for his child.  I have gotten word from him that I can call him “Abba,” or “Dad.”

And so, We now pray to him, as Jesus taught us, “Our Father in Heaven, your name alone is to be honored as holy…”  We approach His Holiness as Our Father.  Let us approach with trembling joy, making the most of our opportunity and being quite eager to get the most out of it–especially for unbelievers living without hope.

Christians in Egypt Attacked by Army


The Assyrian International News Agency offers the latest update on the case of Christians in Egypt.  According to their news report, the Egyptian army feels free to lash out at Christians.  From the story,

Lawyer Hany Ramsis, one of the organizers of the sit-in who was present at the time of the attack, told Coptic Free Voice “We were surprised by the army attack. The youth were cleaning the place and some families who came from the provinces were packing. There were around 500 people still there at the time of the attack.” He said the soldiers cut the wire fences and started running towards the people, shouting “Allahu Akbar.”

The story goes on to report that 15 or more Christians were hospitalized after the attacks.  Most of the 15 had a combination of broken limbs and head wounds.  There were reports of gunfire.  Some claim that Christians were shot with live rounds, but those claims have not yet been established.

The Christians were able to video the incident (which you can watch here). However, the quality of the video is rather poor.  The incident happened at 3:45 a.m., in what should have been the closing hours of a “sit-in” demonstration.  Christians have continued protesting peacefully in Egypt in order to settle their claims of abuse, oppression, and persecution.  The Christians had agreed to stop their protest for a 9-day period to give the government time to respond.  This incident happened just hours before the scheduled stoppage of the protests.

Christians have a very tough assignment in Egypt and the Middle East.  They need our prayers. Pray for Christians in Egypt (2 Corinthians 1:8-11).


Japan Update on Christian Relief


The Apostle Paul writes in 1 Thessalonians 5:17 a very simple command to Christians, “Pray without ceasing.”  The attitude of prayer is one that characterizes the believer, even though—to many people—the exercise appears futile if not outright naïve.  Yet, prayer may, in fact, be the most important and most effective thing we can do.  Especially, prayer may be the most important thing we can do right now for Japan.  Going there would only create a further strain on dwindling resources.  We cannot go.  But we can pray.

One Christian lady speaking of the situation in Japan says,

All of us around the world can be there in prayer. Although it doesn’t make sense in human terms, perhaps the way that most of us can make the most significant contribution for the time being is to pray because the lives of others both physically and spiritually depend on it.

She is correct.  We can contribute to the relief of the people of Japan through our prayers.  Because of the work of Christ as our high priest, we can enter the holy place and make our requests known to God.  We must be in prayer for the families who have lost so much—that they might gain the reward of redemption.  Our God who delivered Christ over to the worst sin and death ever executed is able—as he displayed in Christ—to redeem the worst scenario into an eternal victory.  From an eternal perspective, there remains hope.  So, we must pray.

We must pray for the workers who are on the ground, for their strength, their endurance, and their witness.  May the Lord give them strong hands and a mighty tongue with which to serve both physical and spiritual needs.  Let us pray indeed that great love would be poured out through the resources of many nations and—more importantly—many Christians and their churches.

We can also give thanks to God.  According to this article, Baptists are already on the ground in Japan, assessing both the scale of the damage and the scope of the relief effort.  Baptist Global Response is developing a strategy to provide disaster relief on behalf of Christians in Japan. Without ceremony, fanfare, applause, or even thanks, Christians are already pouring out their money and their lives to serve the needy people of Japan.  So, be encouraged. The world may mock us, hate us, disparage us, and demean our efforts to speak—but it does not matter, and it will not deter us from serving others with love. We are free to love God and love others—regardless of whether others ever return love to us. We are free.  For that, we can be thankful.

If you are interested in helping Japan in a way that will use 100% of your donations to relief, then check out the BGR/IMB work that is already unfolding.  Volunteers do all the work. Christians are remarkably efficient at handling disaster relief.  So, keep up with the work we are doing in Japan.  Join in if you can. And, remember, pray without ceasing.

More News About Christians in Egypt


As feared, the revolution in Egypt appears to be escalating the violence against Christians in the home place of the pyramids.  According to this news report, Christians in the village of Soul (which is 30 kilometers from Cairo) were ambushed by a mob of 7,000 angry Muslims.  The Muslims stormed the Church of St. Mina and St. George, setting the facility ablaze.

The church and all of its contents were lost.  Included in the loss were a number of ancient relics which the church had preserved.  In addition, the whereabouts of the pastor and three deacons is unknown.  Some have said that they perished in the blaze; others claim they are being held captive by the Muslims.

Nina Shea, who has been covering this story for the Hudson Institute’s Center for Religious Freedom, reports that the churches in Egypt are now more vulnerable than ever because the guards who once were keeping watch over them now are engaged in other matters relating to the protests and demonstrations.  The churches in the provincial areas remain unguarded and have become easy targets for Muslim violence.

On February 23, there were heavy machine gun attacks by armed men against two monasteries in Egypt.  Allegedly, these attacks were in response to “zoning violations.”  In the Soul village attacks, the reason for Islamic ire was ostensibly a rumored relationship between a Christian man and a Muslim woman.  Muslims apparently were outraged that a Muslim girl would be involved with a Christian man, on the one hand, and irate, on the other hand, because of the unwillingness of the girl’s father to kill her in order to restore honor to the village. (See more on honor killings).

According to International Christian Concern, a similar instance occurred in a separate village which ended with two people being killed and another church torched. And, in yet another attack against Christians,  Nina Shea also reports that members of the Muslim Brotherhood stormed a Christian school in downtown Asyut, shouting “Allahu Akbar,” while attempting to take over control of the school.  The school was built a century ago by Presbyterians.

Suffice it to say, the news does not look good for Christians in Egypt.  Of course, some may say that the Christians must learn to stop angering the Muslims.  Maybe the Christians should work harder to comply with local, arbitrary zoning laws so armed militants won’t be forced to storm their unarmed facilities and unload heavy machine gun fire on peaceful monks.  Or, Christians could possibly commit themselves to refusing any urges of affection toward Muslims of the opposite sex.  Yet, even then, I suspect that some other reason for outrage would emerge.  It almost seems like Muslims in the Middle East just want to kill Christians.

Persecution in Ethiopia


Earlier today, I posted a blog about our Ethiopian adoption.  In that blog, I noted that one of the factors of our adopting from Ethiopia was the fact that the children suffered there in a way they did not suffer in the Philippines.  Sadly, two new incidents out of Africa demonstrate the point all too plainly.

Over the past 2 days, Muslims in Ethiopia have been raiding Christian villages and burning Christian churches.  According to International Christian Concern (ICC), five Christian churches have been razed over the past two days.  In addition, two homes of Christian evangelists have been razed as well.  Thousands of Muslims have taken to the streets to participate in the violent outcry against the Christians.  The present violence appears to be centered around Asendabo, Ethiopia.  No Muslims have yet been detained or arrested.

This present violence is only the latest episode of Muslim violence in Ethiopia.  Just last week a group of 17 Christian college students were mobbed while they were conducting a mission trip to Oma Village, Ethiopia.  In both of these cases, the Muslim mobs overpowered the police to get at the Christians who were the targets of their ire.  In this instance, the Muslims beat the students and stoned them, but they were unable to kill them.

Both instances demonstrate that Muslim violence is growing as Muslims become a larger percentage of the population of Ethiopia.  ICC suggests that we encourage the Ethiopian government to crack down on such violent persecution.  Of course, the New Testament urges that we pray for our brothers and sisters in Ethiopia.

You may contact the Ethiopian embassy at (202) 364 1200.

Christian Killed in Pakistan


You might remember that as the drama of Said Musa was unfolding, I pointed out that part of the difficulty facing the Afghan government was the threat of an uprising among the masses of Muslims who would be outraged by leaders unwilling to execute the death penalty against those who supposedly blaspheme the prophet Mohammad by converting to Christ.  I suggested that Afghanistan need only look to the south to see what might happen.  Just two months ago, more than 50,000 Pakistanis protested in favor of a murdering bodyguard who killed the governor he was supposed to be protecting simply because that governor had the audacity to question the legitimacy of killing someone on account of his being a Christian.

Now, it has happened again.  The only Christian in the Pakistani government was killed yesterday.  Shahbaz Bhatti, a Roman Catholic who was outspoken in his opposition to the truly barbaric anti-blasphemy laws in Pakistan, was gunned down while he sat in a car outside of his mother’s home.  Bhatti was 42 years old.  He was the minister of minority affairs in Pakistan.  His life’s work was given to bringing about unity among the various people groups of Pakistan.  Peace, unity, social justice, inter-faith harmony, and human equality—these were the ideals for which Shahbaz Bhatti stood.  And these are the ideals for which he died in Pakistan.

I get so frustrated when I see happy little righteous-types in their Honda hybrids sporting their “coexist” bumper stickers—you know the ones that have the crescent moon as the “c,” the Star of David as the “x,” and the cross as a “t.”  I think, how naïve does one have to be to preach coexistence equally to Jews, Christians, and Muslims—as though there is any relation between the “horror” of Christians hoping to keep the definition of marriage in tact and the ungodly appetite for murder prevalent among millions of today’s Muslims.  If one is really concerned about peaceful coexistence, then he ought to join the fight against Islamic jihad.  Decry acts of violence such as this murder of a peaceful Christian who gave his life to inject some sanity into a place that would surely benefit from its effects.

And some other ways to get serious about coexistence?  Stop parading laughable liberal icons like Michael Moore around as though they are saying something courageous.  Whatever he is, Michael Moore is not courageous.  Neither are the activists against traditional marriage courageous.  Nor, as a matter of fact, are environmental activists courageous.  None of these groups—none of these liberal iconic causes—can approach the courage of Shahbaz Bhatti, who actually gave his life for the cause of coexistence.  I am tired of vacuous liberal platitudes in the face of genuine evil.  Real men—like Shahbaz Bhatti—need our encouragement and our aid.  The distance separating the east from the west is a smaller distance than that which separates today’s liberals from men like Shahbaz Bhatti.

Nina Shea of the Hudson Institute points out that Minister Bhatti refused to get married because he did not think it would be fair for a wife and children to live under the constant burden of death threats.  Bhatti determined that he would give his life for the cause of human coexistence in Pakistan.  And, now, this real hero has indeed given his life for that cause. Let’s pray his life was not in vain.

Are Christians persecuted in the United States? – by Gregory Cochran – Helium


Are Christians persecuted in the United States? – by Gregory Cochran – Helium.

Check out the article above for a fuller explanation of why I think there is persecution in America.  Here, I am offering an anecdote from a recent encounter at Southern Seminary.

Yesterday, I had the privilege of speaking to a group of seminary students about persecution in America.  I know that most Christians in America would say that we aren’t persecuted.  After all, when you hear of Christians being tortured in jail just because they get baptized, it is hard to think that you are suffering persecution simply because some family member says, “You’re crazy.”  You are right to notice the huge difference between the two.

However, the difference is one of degree, not one of kind.  In other words, both are examples of persecution on account of Christ.  Jesus taught his followers that they would suffer persecution and that the persecution would sometimes come in the form of slander or false accusations (Matthew 5:10-12).  Some Christian persecution will take the form of slander, and some will take the form of torture.  One is immeasurably less pleasant than the other, but both are persecution.

After the class, one of the students came up to me to describe what may, in reality, be persecution.  He is in danger of losing his job at a Christian school because he insists on teaching his young students the gospel.  He is forbidden now from having them learn the Apostle’s Creed in Latin (which they had been doing quite well, he says).  And he cannot speak to them about the crucifixion of our Lord because it is too scary for young minds, according to the principle.  This young man had spoken about the death of Jesus because a girl in the class asked, “Why did Jesus have to die.”  So, obviously, in a Christian school, he thought it would be fine to answer her question.  He was wrong.

He now needs prayer and a discerning spirit so that he knows how to walk by faith.  He doesn’t want to be offensive or cause trouble, but he does hope to prove faithful, even if it means losing his job–from a Christian school, in America.

A Letter from Shoaib


Though Shoaib’s letter is not as powerful as the letter we posted from Said Musa last week, there is an urgency about this letter.  It is clear from the letter that Shoaib is appealing to the Afghan Government based on its own constitution.  He is appealing to the government for justice, which is what the government is supposed to provide.

However, governments often forgo justice in the name of political expediency.  Indeed, Shoaib’s biggest fear is that the government will yield to Islamic pressure and follow Shariah law, which he says would surely mean his death.  So, I think our first priority is to appeal to the Lord of the universe, the one for whom the mountains melt like wax (Ps 97:5).  Remember Proverbs 21:1, “The king’s heart is in the hand of the LORD; he directs it like a watercourse wherever he pleases.”

Beyond appealing to the Lord Almighty, we may also wish to appeal to the U.S. Embassy.  The contact information (courtesy of ICC) is as follows:

Afghanistan embassy in the U.S.
Phone: (202-483-6410).
Web address is www.embassyofafghanistan.org.

Also, courtesy of Baptist Press and ICC, there is a translation of Shoaib’s Letter:

“My name is Shoaib Said Assadullah. I am 23 years old. For the last four months I have been imprisoned in Qasre Shahi prison, Mazar-e Sharif for the crime of apostasy, which means I’ve changed my beliefs.

“Not only has my freedom been taken from me, but I [am] undergoing severe psychological pressure. Several times I have been attacked physically and threatened to death by fellow prisoners, especially Taliban and anti government prisoners who are in jail.

“These assaults on my human dignity have affected me negatively, close to the point of death. On the other hand, the court has delayed their decision so that my apparent psychiatric problems will be cured. I do not think this is possible in prison.

“My case is supposed to be sent to the court shortly, because the prosecutor has the right to hold a case only for 30 days. The court’s decision is most definitely going to be the death penalty for me, because the prosecutor has accused me under the Clause 139 of the [Afghan] criminal code which says, ‘If the crime is not cited in the criminal code, then the case has to be referred to the Islamic Shariah law.’

“Furthermore, my mother died less than a month ago from the grief that her beloved son was jailed with the threat of the death penalty over him. The authorities did not even allow me to attend the funeral ceremonies and pay my respects to her. This is against Clause 37 of in the [Afghan] law regarding prisons.

“Not seeing my mother for the last time was more painful than anything else. I would like to add that freedom is a gift from God. This means that we have to respect human freedom and dignity. Clause 24 of Afghan Constitution says, ‘Human freedom and dignity is an unalterable right. The government is committed to respect and protect human freedom and dignity.’

“Article 3 of the [U.N.] Universal Declaration of Human Rights is violated if the Afghan government does not respect Articles 18 and 19. [1] Article 3 of Declaration of Human Rights says: ‘Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.’ Simply stated, if Sharia law is implemented in my case, the Articles 1, 2, 3, 18 and 19 of the Declaration [of] Human Rights will be violated.

“I request that you follow my case.

“Sincerely,

“Shoaib”

Said Free but Shoaib in Danger


In a wonderful sign of Christian unity, thousands of Christians took action on behalf of Said Musa, an imprisoned Christian facing death in Afghanistan for converting to Christianity.  Said Musa HAS BEEN FREED from prison and is now safely out of the country.

Shoaib Assadullah

But Said Musa was not alone.  Another Christian—Shoaib Assadullah—is facing the same possibility for his crime of converting to Christ.

Shoaib, in his early twenties, was arrested on October 21, after he gave a New Testament to one of his friends.  The friend gave the New Testament to Muslim authorities, who summarily arrested Shoaib.  Though he has not been formally charged, this young man also faces the death penalty under anti-conversion laws in Afghanistan.

Even though Shoaib’s family does not agree with his conversion to Christ, they are spending their time and their money trying to get him free.  According to this report, Shoaib’s family has exhausted their income and savings trying to save his life.  As his father said, “He’s my son. Whatever he believes, I have to help him.”  His father’s help has not prevailed over the authorities.

Shoaib remains in jail facing death for converting to Christ.  In December, Shoaib was offered the opportunity to be freed if he would renounce Christ and return to Islam.  He refused, and the judge told him that he would either be sentenced to death or he would be in prison for 20 years.  Though he has appealed, he remains in prison, possibly facing death for faith in Christ.

As International Christian Concern says, “We must remain vigilant and keep the public and diplomatic pressure alive by continuing to shout with one voice for Shoaib Assadullah until together, we can also celebrate his release.”  Amen! We must keep up the good work for Shoaib even as we celebrate Said Musa.

And we must keep praying (see 2 Corinthians 1:8-11).

Why Said Musa Really Went to Jail


The news is still positive concerning Said Musa. We should remember that his help has come from above, just as Paul’s help came to him through the prayers of the saints (2 Corinthians 1:8-11).

International Christian Concern has a good piece concerning Said Musa’s case from an American political perspective.  There are other well-done news stories, too.  The New York Times article I referenced yesterday may be the best among them.  But the proverbial saying surely holds true; when you want to know something, go straight to the horse’s mouth.  (Skilled horsemen can tell the age of a horse by looking in his mouth).

So, those wanting to know about Said Musa and about why he is in jail should go straight to the source–to Said Musa himself.  Here is the last letter which has been received

Letter from Said

from Said Musa, and it is remarkable.  It is a little hard to read, given the broken English, misspelled words, and difficult grammar.  But just like the Revelation of John, though some things are hard to make out, they are so full of glory that it makes the labor of reading them nothing but joy.  Take about 10 minutes to read this letter and see if it does not impact your life.  You will know why he really went to jail.

From his perspective, Said Musa is not in jail because of discrimination, intolerance, oppression, or any other man-centered reason.  Said Musa is in prison to do the will of the Father, and, Oh, how well he has done that from his prison cell!  Work through the letter, and you will see what I mean.

More on Said Musa


Concerning Said Musa, there are reports that American pressure is working.  All the tweets and prayers are having an effect.  Denny Burk, once again, has done a great job of getting out the information.  His post today details the signs of hope for Said.  So, we should keep the pressure on as much as possible.  I have linked here an article which has several links at the bottom of the page which will take you directly to the people and agencies you need to contact.

Said Musa

A New York Times story offers this glimmer of hope from a prosecuting attorney in Afghanistan:  “Based on Shariah law, whoever converts from Islam should be sentenced to death,” said the prosecutor, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “But based on international agreements that Afghanistan has accepted and agreed with, Sayed Mussa has a chance to be released.”

I have learned more about Said, and I have to say his faith is strong indeed.  He has received help from no one.  He has been assigned 2 lawyers, neither of whom has ever helped him.  Indeed, the judge prohibited the first lawyer from helping him.  The second lawyer showed no desire to help him.  And to make matters worse, during Friday prayers, the mullahs have been broadcasting the message that anyone who defends an infidel is also an infidel.  That message appears to be resonating with defense lawyers.

Not only did judges and lawyers abandon him, but, apparently, even the International Red Cross disposed of this innocent man.  He worked with the Red Cross for 15 years, helping to fit people with prosthetic limbs.  Mussa himself has an artificial leg, and, so, he has been able to help many others adjust to living with an artificial limb. According to this story (which is now 2 months old), the Red Cross refused to help their former employee on the grounds that he was arrested for religious reasons—never mind the fact that their professional pledge is to help whoever has need.

Still, as I said, Said’s faith is strong.  He first heard of Christ in a crisis situation.  During an earlier Afghanistan war, he watched his neighbor’s house destroyed by a bomb.  His neighbor had 8 children.  According to the story, the bomb leveled the house, killing 7 of the 10 family members.  The one thing which impacted Said more than seeing the house bombed however was watching a group of fearless ladies run into the bombed house and begin digging, trying to help anyone who may have lived through the horror.  Though there was continuing gunfire, the women did not waiver from offering their lives in aid. Said was impressed.

“When I saw these women and their compassion for my people, it affected me,” he said. “I asked people who they were and they said they are the followers of Jesus Christ.”

 

 

Full Update on Said Musa


Said Musa

As you have probably read, Said Musa is scheduled to be executed within the next three days. It has been encouraging to see so many people waking up the horrific realities of Christian persecution, especially as it exists in Muslim countries.  The Christian Post points out that Christian leaders from Rick Warren to rap artist Shai Linne have been tweeting and re-tweeting the case of Said Musa, a Christian scheduled for execution in Afghanistan because he chose to follow Christ.  It seems as though my friend Denny Burk started the snowball that is now rolling downhill to stop this execution when he urged followers to contact President Barack Obama.

As Paul Marshall points out, President Obama has certainly weighed in on matters much less important in the past, including his official statement of condemnation against a fringe, Florida pastor who merely threatened to burn a Quran.  Surely, the President has an opportunity to stand up for freedom and human dignity, particularly given the fact that Afghanistan professes to be a democratic government and the further fact that the U.S. military and U.S. tax dollars are flowing freely throughout Afghanistan to support this government.

Indeed, the involvement of our money and military in Afghanistan has led many to sound the alarms against our helping this country if they are going to use our aid for the unjust executions of non-Islamic peoples. Mark Krikorian, himself a descendant of Christian refugees from the Middle East, calls attention to our spending billions in Afghanistan to supporting this government which is about to execute a Christian unjustly.  Krikorian quotes the Afghanistan Chief of Staff, who says of Christians like Said Musa, “They must be sentenced to death to serve as a lesson for others.”  So, in the name of teaching people an Islamic lesson, Said Musa must die?  And what is this valuable life lesson?

Apparently, the lesson is “Don’t even think about freedom of religion.”  Said Musa’s crime was apparently his decision to follow Christ instead of Muhammad.  According to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights—a document which Afghanistan signed and ratified—citizens of the country are supposed to have freedom of religion and the right to a fair trial.  Musa got neither.  Instead of freedom of religion, Said Musa is sentenced to be hanged for the crime of getting baptized.

From the standpoint of the International Covenant, Afghanistan is violating its own stated commitments to human freedom.  By my count (at least ostensibly), Musa’s case violates Article 6, Article 7, Article 9, Article 10, Article 12, Article 14, and, especially, Article 18 of their covenant agreement with the nations of the world.  So, why is it that now—when democracy is on the march in the Middle East—this government would pursue such a hypocritical and barbaric course of action against an innocent Christian?

One need look no further than to their neighbors to the south to answer the question.  Government leaders in Afghanistan don’t want to face the charge of hypocrisy; they don’t want to be seen as barbaric by the outside world.  But they also don’t want to die.  About a month ago, a governor in neighboring Pakistan made a statement to the effect that he believed executing converts from Islam to Christianity was inappropriate.  The governor’s bodyguard shot and killed him.  The execution, though an awful blow to democratic ideals in this volatile region, was probably not enough to dissuade leaders from speaking publicly against executing Christians. Yet, what followed has surely had a chilling effect.  According to this news report, about 50,000—yes, 50,000—people took to the streets to celebrate the man who murdered his boss.  They protested loudly against any changes to the current laws against blasphemy in Pakistan.  One would have to be a fool not to notice the signal this sends to leaders of Muslims in this area.  For us, another life lesson is made clear: Not all protesters are seeking democracy.

Understand the pressure that has been put upon the government of Afghanistan.  Surely, they need our prayers, too.  They feel the heat of an Islamic furor that longs for its satisfaction in the execution of Christians and any others who refuse to submit to Allah.  In some ways, I think these leaders are less callous about life than Secretary Clinton and President Obama must be.  President Obama risks nothing by taking a stand for Said Musa.  His life is not in danger, but his voice might just save Said.  The government leaders in Afghanistan, on the other hand, are probably risking their lives by considering a cancellation of the scheduled execution. The seriousness of the situation will make clear what each government thinks of the value of human life and human freedom.

Jesus’s teaching becomes soberly clear in a situation like this:  “Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both body and soul in Hell.”  For Said Musa, the fears are real.  But so is his faith.  He says of his present situation, “My body is theirs to do what they want with. Only God can decide if my spirit goes to hell.”  Whether he lives or dies, Musa surely does not appear headed for the coward’s end (Revelation 21:8).  Faith is giving him clear sight.

If you would like to remember this brother in prison, as though in prison with him, since you yourself are in the body of Christ (Hebrews 13:3), then you will want to pray for Said Musa, that his faith would not fail, that he would not shrink back, and that we would not be silent.

Then, you may want to speak. I have different contact pages below.

Contact Afghanistan embassy in D.C.  http://www.embassyofafghanistan.org/contact.html

Contact US embassy in Afghanistan: http://kabul.usembassy.gov/contact.html

Contact the President at the White House: http://www.whitehouse.gov/contact

» Pray for Said Musa | Denny Burk


» Pray for Said Musa | Denny Burk.

My good friend Denny Burk has done a great job compiling articles, information, and suggested action concerning Said Musa at his blog, which you can reach by clicking the link above.  Thanks, Denny.

We spoke of and prayed for Said Musa during our service today. I am still trying to get an update on his situation.  I have not yet found anything updating his status. I have prayed for him, of course. Hopefully, you have, too. This is one of the stories that should be covered but isn’t.

The entire world was in an uproar when a single, fringe pastor threatened to burn a Quran. Do you remember that? General Petraus and even President Obama spoke out against the threat of burning a book.  Now, we have a real human atrocity being played out before our very eyes.  A man has been tortured, abused, sexually assaulted in prison, unjustly convicted of the “crime” of converting from Islam to Christ, and, now, is likely to be executed by a judge simply because he chose to not to be a Muslim.  There have been no statements by the President.

Afghanistan says that they allow freedom of religion, but they are about to kill someone for daring to exercise it.  And the world is silent. Leaders are mute.

Contact President Obama and politely urge him to speak up against this violation of human dignity.  http://www.whitehouse.gov/contact

What Is Calvinism vs. Arminianism?


Calvinism is a name derided much more often than understood. Typically, debates are framed by the so-called “5 Points of Calvinism.”  This 5-point framework is both helpful and misleading.  If one were to ask John Calvin about 5-point Calvinism, he wouldn’t know what to say.  He never devised such a theological pentagon.  For Calvin, there was 1 point of concern: the gospel.

So, in the face of what he saw as grave errors of theology (both practical and doctrinal), Calvin researched the Scriptures to clarify what the Bible teaches about salvation.  The result of his research was the publication of the Institutes of the Christian Religion in which he fleshed out in detail what the Bible teaches about God and man.  For Calvin, this was an exploration of the gospel of Jesus Christ.  He wrote at a time when men were being executed for teaching error; so, he tried to get the gospel right.

After Calvin died, one of his students attempted to correct what he thought were errors in Calvin’s theology.  The student was Arminius, and he disagreed with some of what his teacher had taught him.  Arminius never worked out all the details of his disagreements with Calvin, but his followers did.  They issued a report to the Synod of Dort in which they presented 5 areas of theological disagreement with Calvin’s theology.  These 5 areas are those we know by the acrostic, TULIP.  The acrostic, like the 5 points, can be both helpful and misleading.  The 5-point acrostic is helpful as a memory device, but it is misleading as a theological statement.

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China One Child Tragedy


I know the story of Xiao (pronounced “Sha-ow”) is not “news” right now, considering that it happened last fall, but, still, the tragedy of China’s one-child policy is brought out in such starkly human terms that it is hard to ignore. It is a sad story.  Xiao Ai Ying and her husband were expecting their second child.  Eight months pregnant, Xiao was already letting her first child feel the baby move and already talking about what it would be like when the new child arrived in their home.  But the new child never did arrive in their home.

The child became yet another victim of China’s one-child policy.  Police held Xiao in custody, and, after questioning her, they injected her womb with a solution to kill the child.  She was then taken to a hospital in order to deliver the dead child.  Xiao’s baby did die.  And now, in accordance with the “Family Planning” controls of the People’s Republic of China, life is supposed to be better for Xiao and her family.  If you watch the couple speak of the ordeal, you get the clear sense that their lives were not made better by the government’s family planning.

Interestingly, the news media who covered the incident seemed to get diverted by geography.  The story became less about the practice of forced abortions in China and more about the surprise that it happened in a metropolitan area.  The news reporters appear surprised, however, because they expect the Chinese government to uphold the value of life.  Forcing a woman to have an abortion while she is 8 months pregnant seems an awful lot like… well, like killing a baby.  This reality obviously made the NPR news crew a little nervous.  So, following the lead of the Al Jazeera reporter who originated the story, they made the story about how surprising it was that this happened in a metro area instead of in a rural area.

But, really, what difference does it make where this horror unfolded?  The reporter’s narrative is supposed to be that only in the “hick” and “backwoods” areas of China would one find these forced abortions, but that is a silly narrative.  All over China, there is a one-child policy for the sake of family planning.  Chinese officials admit that they vigorously promote family planning to lower the growth of their population.  Even in the supposedly more humane metro areas, women who violate this one-child policy are subject to a fine of up to $40,000 and then a forced sterilization after the birth of the child.  Granted, this is “more humane” than a forced abortion, but it is still inhumane.

This horror in China is a direct outgrowth of the policies of Communist government of China.  There is no inconsistency between the official policy and the practice of forced abortion.  The news reports make it sound as though there is this vast inconsistency between the Communist government and some of its overzealous local leaders who go too far.  In other words, the news reports make it sound as though this forced abortion is merely the result of zealous upstarts wanting to make for themselves a name, and that it isn’t connected to official Chinese policy.

But of course it is connected directly to the official Chinese policy, which is why some responsible lawmakers called on President Hu Jintao during his recent visit to the White House to reverse the forced abortion policy in China.  NPR assumes the news angle for this story is a vindication of Communist leaders.  The news agency goes to some lengths to assert that the central Communist commanders must be unaware of the awful realities of forced abortions.  But the argument doesn’t seem to fit.  The argument agrees that the  local government officials are dependent upon meeting their population target goals in order to advance their careers, but then the argument leaves the problem at the level of these local governments. Local officials supposedly get too excited about meeting their population goals, and so they go too far.  Rather than simply encouraging abortions, they actually cause abortions.

But wouldn’t that argument be something like a parent telling his child that he will get an allowance if he steals $10 per week worth of merchandise from Wal-mart and then, when the racket is made public, turning the child in as a thief?  Who is setting these population target goals? Why are they so important at the local level?  Isn’t it because they are deemed important at the higher levels, you know, at the levels of the people who decide who gets promoted and who does not?  Maybe rather than focusing on the supposedly overzealous local leaders, the news reports need to focus on the Communist leaders who insist upon setting population goals as a means of enforcing the one-child policy.

It is astounding how quickly the ugliness of abortion (I mean “family planning”) is colored over so that attention is diverted away from reality.  This news story about Xiao Ai Ying and the baby who had to die in the name of family planning tells us something about ourselves.  We know the awfulness of abortion.  The writers of the NPR story are uncomfortable with the reality of abortion and the reality of China’s forced abortion policy, but their problem is that they cannot face the reality of their own repulsion.  To do so would acknowledge the need to repent of supporting abortion.  To acknowledge the awfulness of this awful reality would be to surrender the “freedom” of after –the-fact birth control.  Though we know how hideous it is to kill babies in the womb, we still want the freedom to do it to escape the responsibility of parenthood and maintain our right to sexual promiscuity.  That seems to be all the abortion debate is really about–at least in America.  In China, women have more than the right to an abortion.  They have a duty.  The government sometimes enforces this duty.

 

Are Christians Persecuted in America?


Well, we have been discussing Christians in Egypt a good bit lately, but what about Christians in America? Do you think Christians suffer persecution in America?

It would be great to hear your opinions below. If you are interested in my attempt to answer the question rightly, you can check it out here.

Christians in a Muslim Egypt


I have been reading more to understand the situation in Egypt and throughout the Middle East. Freedom is indeed on the march throughout the Arab world. It is something that few thought was even a remote possibility. President Bush deserves credit for believing the impossible was possible throughout the Middle East (see here).

However, the significance of Egypt is much more than political.  The future of Christians in the Arab world could well follow the course of Christians in Egypt.  Will there be a place for Christians in Egypt?  Christians aren’t sure.

Part of the reason for the uncertainty is the uncertainty in the movement itself.  No one seems to have expected this uprising. There was no planned revolution.  No one is in charge of this sudden demand for democracy.  So, not surprisingly, Christians were surprised, too.  Christians were not sure of how to respond.  Protestant and Roman Catholic leaders were originally supportive of the status quo.  On February 1, they were still supportive of the Mubarek regime.  The Orthodox Christian Pope declared that the demonstrations were not from God.

Yet, by February 9th, Protestant, Roman Catholic, and Eastern Orthodox leaders were encouraging their followers to join the protests for freedom in Egypt.  Now, Christian lawyers and professionals are joining with other professionals in Egypt to draft a new constitution.  The hot wind blowing throughout Egypt these days is the wind of democratic change. While their air right now is as filled with the hope of freedom as our air will be filled with pollen in the spring, Egyptians still have a long way to go—especially Egyptian Christians.

The main point of contention in the constitution is Article 2, which states that Egypt is Islamic.  Some are insisting that the new Egypt be an Islamic Egypt.  Others are hoping that the new Egypt will be a free Egypt which will allow the Christian minority to express freedom of religion.  Christians represent about 10% of the population of Egypt.  Of that 10%, only a tiny fraction is Protestant.  Most of Egypt’s Christian population is Orthodox.

Will Christians be allowed in the new Islamic Egypt?  Christians are hoping so.  They are asking us to pray for it in fact.  As this report makes clear, Christians view the prospect of freedom of worship to be a “second miracle.”  They never dreamed of democratic freedom.  Now that it is on the horizon, might they dare dream of the freedom of religion?

A major hindrance to the freedom of religion will be the role of the Muslim Brotherhood.  Whatever some Western elites might be saying about the “new” Muslim Brotherhood, the truth of the matter is that major Islamic terrorist organizations have their roots in the Muslim Brotherhood of Egypt.  Needless to say, Christians in Egypt aren’t excited about the prospect of an Egypt under their

Christians protecting Muslim Prayers

command.  Christians in Egypt admit that they have lived with the fear of the Muslim Brotherhood for the past 20 years.  They are not looking forward to 20 more years under their control. So, what role will the Muslim Brotherhood have in the new Egypt?  The verdict is still out.  Christians are praying that the future of Egypt is not given into their hands.

Finally, I mentioned the prayer protection ring earlier, and it has happened again since. The good news is that it proved reciprocal.  Christians encircled Muslims to protect them during their Friday prayers, and Muslims surrounded Christians during their Sunday worship service to protect them from the protesters.  Surely, this is a good message for all to hear concerning the potential for peace in Egypt, but it is not at all the end of the matter.  There are years and years of historical tensions between Muslims and Christians in Egypt. The future remains an open question. So, maybe it is time for us to form our own prayer circle around Egypt for the protection of the saints.

Who Is Valentine? What Is Love?


As the breezy wind sweeps across the Kentucky hills this morning, I cannot help but think of spring.  For the first time in months, we began our day with the thermometer above 40 degrees—a sure sign that spring is in the air.  And where there is spring, there is love.  When spring is in the air, love is there, too.  Spring and love are natural thoughts this time of year.  In just over a month, spring will officially begin—birds, bees, flowers, trees, fish and even fleas (I suppose) will repopulate the earth with their supply.  And today—Valentine’s Day—is the day we have set aside to celebrate romantic love.  How fitting this day comes just before spring arrives.

Surely, part of the reason romantic love is celebrated on Valentine’s day is connected to the natural arrival of spring.  As Tom Jones once sang, “Love is in the air in the whisper of the trees.”  The natural awakening of love in springtime was connected to St. Valentine in the Medieval literature of the 14th century.  So, in time for Valentine’s day in 1383, Chaucer wrote of the love-filled air in his poem, Parliament of the Fowles,

309  For this was on seynt Valentynes day,

310  Whan every foul cometh ther to chese his make,

As far back as the 1300’s, then, Valentine’s day has been related to the “Love-is-in-the-Air” theme.  Already, St. Valentine was venerated and celebrated.  Chaucer simply made the connection to human love more prominent.

Before Chaucer, Valentine’s day already honored Valentine.  Although there has been much discussion over who this St. Valentine may have been, the most consistent answer is that he was a Christian leader (Bishop? Presbyter?) during the reign of Claudius II of the Roman Empire (the late 3rd Century A.D.).

As the story of St. Valentine goes, he was committed to helping Christians in their faith at a time when the Emperor ordered just the opposite.  Under Claudius, there was to be no aiding of Christianity or the Christians who practiced it.  Valentine apparently thought his obligation to Galatians 6:10 overrode his obligation to Romans 13.  Emperor Claudius in Valentine’s view had attempted to usurp his God-given authority by commanding people to disobey God.  Such disobedience Valentine could swallow. So, he helped Christians.

In particular, Valentine is said to have helped young Christians preparing for marriage, a fact which explains why Valentine is the patron saint of young couples in the Roman Catholic tradition today.  Even in his own day, it seems, Valentine had a love for love.

Valentine was arrested for his ministry.  He was beaten and tortured, but, strangely, is said to have had a positive impact on Emperor Claudius, at least, a positive impact until he called the Emperor to repent and believe Jesus.  Apparently, the Emperor did not appreciate Valentine’s gospel plea.  When the Emperor could not get Valentine to retract his own confession of faith, he had him beheaded.

Valentine brings out all that is good in human love and, especially, all that is noble about love.  He demonstrated at the cost of his own life what the value of love is.  Love is worth dying for.  So, it is obvious why we would celebrate love and Valentine on the same day.  The celebration is more than an adaptation of nature’s springtime song.  Though it probably includes the natural love emerging in spring, still, the love which drove Valentine to die was a much greater love than that which Tom Jones enshrined in music.  The love which Valentine displayed was the greater love of Jesus Christ, the kind of love that is not afraid of death, knowing that death itself has been defeated, knowing that the grave is overwhelmed, knowing that the victory is won.  Indeed, even marital love is supposed to sing in the key of Jesus, as men are instructed in Ephesians 5 to love their wives as Christ loved the church and gave himself for her.

The sacrificial love of Christ, giving himself for his bride, the church, is perfect love. It is a love which gives itself over to the earthly and eternal well-being of another.  St. Valentine apparently loved the church of the 3rd century this way.  He gave himself for her good, and, as a result, he was killed—just like Jesus was killed for the love he showed his church.  Truly, a greater love has no man than this, that he lay down his life to love another.  Thank you, St. Valentine for the Christ-like example.  Happy Valentine’s day indeed.

Wondering About Christians in Egypt?


In case some of you are wondering how Christians are doing in Egypt, you can follow this link to a news report that paints a grim picture.  Notice that the violence is taking place in a rural area far from Cairo.  It surely isn’t getting reported, and, according to the article, our present administration appears either disinterested or unaffected by news of the persecution of Christians in Egypt.

Indeed, the news article offers another example of what I was speaking about in Bush, Jesus, and Egypt.  There seems to be support for “democracy” without concern for humanity, or at least without concern for Christian humanity.

Especially Preaching: The Ordinary Means of Grace and Christian Spirituality – The Gospel Coalition Blog


Especially Preaching: The Ordinary Means of Grace and Christian Spirituality – The Gospel Coalition Blog.

The blog conversation linked above is a great one for us to follow because it addresses issues which we take for granted. If we are serious about following God’s Word, we will always be willing to check our traditions at the door of the Bible.  However, we must also be cautious about discarding tradition simply because we don’t understand its origin.  There is a good chance that many of our traditions have in fact been built upon Scripture.  The fact that we aren’t able to defend those traditions biblically may not be an indication that we are following tradition instead of the Bible. It may simply mean that we are still somewhat ignorant of the Bible and need to dig back into the Word to learn more about why we do what we do.  The conversation on this blog is a very good example of our need to keep digging, in my opinion.

‘Save That Sound Bite; It Might Come Back to Haunt Him’ – By Kathryn Jean Lopez – The Corner – National Review Online


Kathryn Jean Lopez interviewed Barry Rubin,Director of Global Research in International Affairs and author of 2 books concerning Egypt and Islam.  She asked him the following question. I post the question and the response so you will get an idea of what it’s like for Christians in Egypt:

Lopez: Human Rights. Christians. Democracy. Any of these winners today?

Rubin: Christians in Egypt, truth be told, are likely to lose either way. A more radical regime is likely to tolerate more attacks on them, a weak moderate one is likely to tolerate attacks so as not to set off Islamist militants. The existence of some anarchy will also endanger them.

via ‘Save That Sound Bite; It Might Come Back to Haunt Him’ – By Kathryn Jean Lopez – The Corner – National Review Online.