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.