#What Is Aleppo? Why Christians must care


What is Aleppo? The question seems innocent enough to most Americans. But back in September, the question lit up Twitter ( #WhatIsAleppo ) and made Independent presidential candidate Gary Johnson appear even more out of touch with reality. When asked about his response to the crisis in Aleppo, Johnson replied, “And what is Aleppo?”

It’s one thing for an average American to be unsure about Aleppo’s whereabouts; it’s another thing entirely when someone aspiring to be president is not aware of its existence.

aleppo-city-viewSo, what is Aleppo? Aleppo is an ancient city, one of the oldest cities on earth. Aleppo was around before Jesus was born in Bethlehem. And Aleppo existed before King David killed Goliath. Indeed, people were dwelling in Aleppo before Moses was born in Egypt. People have been living in the ancient city of Aleppo (now the second largest city in Syria) for more than 4,000 years.

Today—partly because it is Syria’s second largest city—Aleppo has become the flashpoint in Syria’s civil war. The civil war in Syria is a power struggle to determine who controls Syria and this region of the Middle East. Daniel Horowitz explains,

In Syria, there is a fight between Assad/ Hezbollah/Russia/Iran vs. Al Qaeda splinter groups, Ahrar al Sham, and the Islamic State — with Turkey, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia funding a number of the Islamic fundamentalist rebels.

Uri Friedman of The Atlantic describes Aleppo’s significance this way:

If Assad, along with his Russian and Iranian allies, were to emerge victorious in Aleppo, it would have consequences beyond Syria, Tabler added: “It would be a tremendous loss for the U.S. and its traditional allies: Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Jordan. … This would also be a huge loss for the United States vis-à-vis Russia in its Middle East policy, certainly. And because of the flow of refugees as a result of this, if they go northward to Europe, then you would see a migrant crisis in Europe that could lead to far-right governments coming to power which are much more friendly to Russia than they are to the United States.” In other words, to answer Gary Johnson’s question, Aleppo is a lot more than a Syrian city.

These quotes make a couple of important points. One, a serious war is waging in Aleppo, and it involves a number of world powers, not the least of which are the U.S. and Russia…apparently on opposing sides. The significance of Aleppo in world events is evident in the recent assassination of Russian ambassador Andrei Karlov. Karlov’s assassin allegedly shouted “Remember Aleppo” after killing the ambassador. Clearly, Aleppo is front and center in world affairs.

Two, Christians in Syria in general and Aleppo in particular have no real allies. Which would be better—to face the oppression of the Assad form of Islam or side with the Al-Qaeda rebels and live under their brand of Islamic extremism? It would be difficult in good conscience to waive a banner for either team in this civil war.

Back in 2011-2012, the U.S. thought it was intolerable that 10,000 Syrians were killed. Our government thus decided to fortify the rebellion against the Assad government. But Assad’s government did not topple. Russia and Iran reinvigorated that government with military might to reassert its dominance. And the result has been horrific. CNN reports,

Since the war began in 2011, an estimated 400,000 Syrians have been killed, according to the United Nations.

As of December 2016, 4.81 million Syrians have fled the country and 6.3 million people are displaced internally.

What should Christians do?aleppo-syria

Without a doubt, Christians must pray for all the citizens of Aleppo. The people of Syria are suffering at the hands of their political leaders, who, in some sense, serve as religious leaders, too. There are reports that churches are growing because Muslims are disillusioned by the violence and are looking for answers. As one Christian from Aleppo says,

“But you know what’s surprising? The church is still full; displaced people take their place. Especially Muslims are coming to the church now.”

Christians must pray specifically for other Christians in Syria. The Christian district in Aleppo has been all but obliterated. About 90% of Christians in the area have either died or fled to a safer location like Lebanon. Those Christians remaining are living without electricity, gas, heat, and even without water. Conditions are not just terrible. They are life-threatening. And yet, ministry needs and opportunities are increasing. Imagine surviving through such difficulties, while having the opportunity to minister to many Muslims through your church. It’s an unusual opportunity to say the least.

For anyone interested, Global Hunger Relief operates in Syria. The advantage of GHR is that it operates on a volunteer basis, ensuring that 100% of funds given actually go toward meeting needs, not paying staff.

http://globalhungerrelief.com/news/detail/syrian-refugees

What’s Next for Christians in America?


A fantastic contrast is displayed in Isaiah 46: the difference between carrying around man-made gods or realizing that God Himself carries mankind through history.  God’s people realize that God alone is Lord and that we are dependent wholly upon Him. He cares for us, and He carries us. He bears our burdens. He begins the good work in us, and He brings it to its eternal completion in Christ.

Create idol keep idol Christians in America

Idol in Tahiti (Creative Commons)

Conversely, those who refuse or reject God end up making gods for themselves. Expedient as this idolatry is in the beginning, it becomes quite burdensome over time. It’s one thing to make an idol; it’s quite another to keep it. As reality bears down, the idol becomes harder and harder to keep alive. In the end, one must either admit that we are created and sustained by God, or we must believe against mounting evidence that truth is what we demand it to be —a god of our own making.

The pressure is mounting in America. There was once room for the Bible’s God in civil discourse and common morality. Since the sexual revolution, however, the god of sexual freedom has demanded no boundaries. Even the common sense notion that marriage includes a husband and a wife is an unbearable burden. The God of the Bible seems too demanding now for most Americans. Consider a few recent examples.

A couple of years ago, I noted how the Democratic National Convention separated itself from Christianity preceding their election-year rally in Charlotte.  For some reason, the DNC shunned welcome baskets from a group of Christian churches welcoming them to town (the Charlotte 714 project).  Have Republicans now rejected biblical morality, too?  One must wonder whether the recent non-vote by the U.S. House of Representatives wasn’t a similar signal being broadcast by the Republican party—that Christian views of life and marriage really are now out of bounds in a sexually boundless America.

In his visceral rejection of the Republican-led House of Representatives’ inaction, Russell Moore hurled,

“I am disgusted by this act of moral cowardice. If the House Republicans cannot pass something as basic as restricting the abortion of five-month, pain-capable unborn children, what can they get done?”

Beyond the question of what the Republicans might get done, my question is what does this inaction mean for Christianity in America? It’s painfully obvious that one ought not hurt a helpless baby in the womb. If we can no longer appeal to Congress for moral action on behalf of innocent babies, then for what can we as Christians appeal?

Will we dare speak up for marriage? Family?  Chastity?  Recently, a fire chief in Atlanta was suspended without pay simply for believing that some forms of sexual expression are “perversions” of the heterosexual (and biblical) norm.  Even more ominously, judges in my home state of California have decided—as a code of ethics—that it would be improper for a sitting judge to be affiliated with an organization that discriminates on the basis of sexual orientation. From the Los Angeles Times,

California’s judicial code of ethics bars judges from holding “membership in any organization that practices invidious discrimination on the basis of race, sex, gender, religion, national origin, ethnicity or sexual orientation.”

Presently, this new code of ethics reaches to private organizations like the Boy Scouts—but not yet to churches.  Churches are the only exemption left, but for how long will churches be exempt? Denny Burk offers this sober assessment:

In other words, the Court knows that it has a standard that churches and other religious organizations violate. That is why they grant them an exception. But on what basis would they continue such an exception? If they really view churches as discriminatory without rational basis, there would be no reason for the exception to stand. That would effectively preclude Christians and other people of faith from serving as state judges in California.

So Christians may not be able to be judges in California, big deal! Why does that matter? It matters because such an Free speech lost two stories christianexclusion would mean no Christian interpretation of the law—thus no biblical morality—in California. Despite what folks say, all legislation is ultimately moral legislation. Morality is the only thing laws can legislate. And the direction of California is toward legislating a morality without a Christian component. (See Romans 3:10-18 for a picture of such a “morality”).

Two recent, excellent articles point in this same direction and attempt to wrestle with the consequences of godless morality for Christians in America.  Rod Dreher has an insightful piece recently published in The American Conservative titled “The End of American Civic Christianity.”

In this piece, Dreher contends that the division within the Roman Catholic Church has reached a crisis point. It is no longer clear whether one can be both Christian and American. Here is the article’s conclusion:

He found that the older people around the table — those 50 and older, say …  still seemed to believe that the public order could be saved, despite the direness of the moment. Those younger people — including Catholic scholars — had a more radical view of what could be saved, and what could not. To put it more bluntly than it probably should be, if the question is, “Can you be both a good Christian, and a good American?”, the answer is increasingly looking like no, you cannot.

The unified view, as I recall, was that we are no longer living in normal times for American Christians, and they (we) had better wake up and understand which way the wind is blowing, and adjust.

The wind is obviously blowing against the Biblical view of morality. A similar article was recently posted by Dr. Mark Coppenger in the Canon and Culture series from the ERLC. In this article, Dr. Coppenger argues that “Therapeutic Nihilism” rules the day. Feelings in general (and sexual feelings in particular) rule the day rather than the more open Judeo-Christian philosophy of days gone by. Coppenger argues for an unashamed return to the “discursive” Judeo-Christian philosophy of American history. His case is compelling.

Nevertheless, I fear the first article gets it exactly right. The sexual revolution is more radical than any of us realize, and the appetite of foreign gods is never satisfied. Pagan gods must be fed continually and propped up incessantly. Because they are not real, they must coerce complete adherence. No dissension is allowed—especially if those dissenting voices echo the one, true God of days gone by.

Christian Church China PersecutionWhat does this mean for Christians? It means we ought to accept the reality that we are no longer a “moral majority.” We are the minority sub-culture of American morality.  Thus, we must first get our own houses in order. The first priority of American Christianity ought to be ecclesiology. We must have healthy churches. Our culture desperately needs a viable alternative to offer those over-burdened by propping up the foreign god of the sexual libertines. The family of God has to be a refreshing alternative to the dysfunctional families decimated by the god of this age.

Second, Christians must genuinely live mundane lives as salt and light. Our king is still on His throne. We need not fear the future—even if it means we shall suffer the wrath of those devoted to a false god. Our Christ will never be unseated from His throne. We must lovingly point others to His majesty. We must speak of the true freedom found in Christ. We must always shine the light of our good works and good words into the darkness of a lost people so they may continue to have hope.

Finally, we must realize that neither the gospel nor our Lord Jesus has failed. Christ will build his church, and the gates of Hell will not prevail against it.  One person at a time, Christ will build His church. One brick at a time, the new temple in Christ’s kingdom is still being built through sinners believing in Jesus. One letter at a time, a new history is being written as Christ brings today and tomorrow toward its ultimate goal of a new heaven and a new earth converging around Him.

So what are Christians to do? Obey Psalm 46:10, “Cease striving and know that I am God.” Or, to use the phrase of a famous hymn: Be Still My Soul,

Be still, my soul; thy God doth undertake

To guide the future as He has the past.

Thy hope, thy confidence, let nothing shake;

All now mysterious shall be bright at last.

Be still, my soul; the waves and winds still know

His voice who ruled them while He dwelt below.

In the end, if the Bible is true (and it is), and if Isaiah 46 is right (as it most certainly is), then the false gods of sexual liberation will prove to be too much of a burden to bear. When that happens, Christians and their God—and their God-glorifying communities—will be a remedy of welcomed relief for those who are weary and heavy-laden, for those who wish to find rest for their souls and learn from Jesus the way to abundant life.

RELATED POST:

Don’t Mess with Marriage (Lesson in Tyranny)

Christians Stop Calling Yourselves Sinners


Billy Joel famously confessed in song,

“I’d rather laugh with the sinners than cry with the saints

The sinners are much more fun—only the good die young!”

Overlooking his obvious false dichotomy between saints and fun and his full-throttled embrace of sin, we can give Joel credit for seeing something that many sinners and saints equally miss: Saints and sinners are two distinct groups of people. In this distinction, Billy Joel is being quite biblical.

These two categories, in fact, are biblical categories by which all of humanity can be divided.  The Bible makes this distinction in various ways: darkness/light; believers/unbelievers; children of God/children of the devil; and saints/sinners.  The New Testament does not call Christians sinners.

Did you hear that?  Christians are not addressed as sinners by the writers of the New Testament.  Christians are called saints. See Paul’s address to the Corinthians for a clear and very common example:

To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours…

If Christians are saints, and not sinners, then why do Christians refer to themselves so often as sinners and almost never as saints?  I came up with four possible explanations. You may think of more (or better) explanations. Here are my four thoughts:

First, we Protestants have a lingering discomfort with the catholic traditions (Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodox) because of their veneration of the saints. Variously, these traditions pray to the saints, hold feast days in their names, and revere certain saints above others. Indeed, these catholic traditions do not use the word saint to refer to all Christians set apart by the gospel. Rather, they use the term to refer to super holy Christians (or something like that).  So, the catholic traditions employ the term in a way we don’t like. We, in turn, choose not to use the term much at all.

Second, we are simply too aware of our own sins, individually and collectively, to think of ourselves as anything but sinners.  We know we have sinned terribly against the Lord.  We know that we still fall short of His glory. Thus, we think of ourselves as sinners.  We call ourselves sinners because we know that is what we have always been.

And all of this is true of course. We were born sinners.  We still sin.  Thus, in a very real sense, we are still sinners.  We feel the tension Martin Luther expressed so well: Simul iustus et peccator [at the same time, we are righteous and sinners]. Our problem is that the apostles and writers of the New Testament refer to Christians as saints, not sinners. Our experience makes us feel like sinners. (So, Paul would call himself the chief of sinners, yet he referred to believers in the churches as saints).  There is serious tension.

Third, let’s be honest—we are not comfortable being called saints. Going by the name sinner is easy. It sounds humble—“I’m just a poor sinner.”  It relieves our responsibility (and even guilt?) somewhat because we can identify with every other Christian who knows he, too, is just a poor sinner.  We commiserate.

Such thinking might also build a certain level of defeatism into our spiritual psyche.  When it comes to exercising spiritual discipline in the morning, it’s easier to slide into sinner mode than saint mode.  When it comes to fighting temptation toward lust, laziness, or lack of evangelistic zeal, we have an easier time consoling ourselves of our failures when we think of ourselves as failures—as sinners.

But the New Testament thinks of us differently. Peter, for instance, reminds his readers,

“You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9).

Wow, that’s a high calling!  Peter and Paul tell us we are saints, holy, royal, and chosen. They do not say we are sinners, partly because (as a biblical category) sinners are condemned (see Paul in Romans 3:7, Peter in 1 Peter 4:18).  Mostly, they use saint as a reminder of our high calling in Christ.

Fourth, we might be confused about the term saint. What does it even mean?

Basically, a saint (‘agion) is a person who is sacred, holy, or “set apart.”  It does not mean super moral or super righteous Christians.  All Christians are called by God, set apart from the world.  We are no longer in the darkness, but we have been transferred into the light, into the kingdom of God’s beloved Son.  As such, we are saints by God’s calling.

The Apostle Paul explains this concept in Romans 6:12-14:

Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions.  Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness.  For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace (ESV).

Paul is borrowing temple language. In the temple, there were instruments set apart for use in temple service. What was the difference between a

Fan of saints not sinners

www.Wallpixr.com
(Yes, I’m a saints fan!)

firepan in the temple and a firepan used, perhaps, in a pagan temple?  Nothing, materially speaking.  But everything in a spiritual and theological sense!  One was pleasing to almighty God and used for worshiping him.  The other was abhorrent to God and used to commit idolatry against Him.

Paul reminds us that we are called (set apart, saints) to be useful in worshiping God, not to be useful in the idolatrous practices of our past (or those present in the world).  We should remember our calling to be set apart. We should remember, as Paul told the Philippians, to let our lives be lived in a manner worthy of the gospel to which we have been called.  Today, we are to be instruments useful to God, set apart for His good purposes. We are His saints today. Therefore, we must go and be useful for God.

The distinction between saint and sinner is not essentially moral. Neither the saint nor the sinner is perfectly holy in moral terms. Yet, one is characterized by his sinful desires; the other is characterized by his holy desires.  One is characterized by idolatrous and fleshly practices; the other is characterized by godliness and usefulness to Christ and the gospel.

Billy Joel, it seems, got two things right. There are sinners, and there are saints. Which one are you today?

Imagine Living as a Christian in Nigeria


Just this past weekend, my family and I hosted a World Cup party. About 25 people crowded into my living room to enjoy the epic battle in which the U.S. Men’s National team fought against the highly-touted, Ronaldo-led squad from Portugal.

Religious Freedom down Hostility Up

Freedom Down, Hostility Up

Yes, the last-second cross from Ronaldo to the head of Varela sent shockwaves down all 25 spines in the room, causing us—at least momentarily—to lose both our will and our ability to speak.  But, all in all, we enjoyed the football, the food, the fellowship, and the fun of the World Cup event. Many people around the U.S. enjoyed similar parties in similar settings.

But World Cup parties played out differently in Nigeria. Nigerians—including Nigerian Christians—also had World Cup viewing parties. Sadly, in the Mubi area of Adamawa state, Muslim extremists bombed a party of football watchers gathered (just as we were) to enjoy this global spectacle that, by design, hopes to bring the world together.

According to this Reuters report, the attack left 14 people dead and 12 injured, some of those are critically wounded.  Most people suspect Boko Haram, a terrorist group working to rid Nigeria of all but the purist form of Islam. In April of this year, this terrorist group kidnapped 200 schoolgirls possibly to keep as brides for Muslim men. The girls are still being held. And, since the kidnapping, Boko Haram has killed more than 500 innocent civilians in settings similar to World Cup watching parties. The majority of those being targeted by Boko Haram are Christians.

We have taken much for granted in the U.S.  Even while our freedoms are shrinking daily, we still have not come to a place where bombs are expected at “futbol” parties. We can be thankful for that, of course, but we also can be more sober about the world in which we live.

Islam is a force of intolerance with no equal right now. A couple of Islam scholars I have read have argued that groups like Boko Haram spring up in countries where Islam is almost a majority. Their hope is that through violence and intimidation and an appeal to Islamic heritage they can tip the Lady Justice Judge othersscales nationwide toward Islam and Sharia law.

I’m certainly no expert on these matters, but I will say that Nigeria fits that description. Nationwide, they are 50% Muslim and 50% Christian or traditional African religion.  The area targeted in this recent attack is a Fulani area (I think). That would make sense because Boko Haram has been slaughtering Christians and any who don’t appear Muslim enough. The Fulani people, I believe, are mostly Muslim, but they hold to a tradition all their own.

Regardless of the particulars at play in Nigeria, the case is certain that it is not safe to be a Christian there, especially in the northern parts of the country like Adamawa state (where this attack occurred).  Our brothers and sisters in Christ in Nigeria need our continued prayer and support. Our concern for humankind and for individual liberty calls us to care for the fate of the Fulani people in Nigeria, too.

To contemplate the reality that while we were joyfully watching a game for its entertainment value other people were being mercilessly slaughtered in the name of religious conformity is, at the very least, sobering. It is an almost unbearable reality.  We can’t just ignore it for that would make us cold, indifferent, and almost culpable.  We also can’t be debilitated by it. We must continue both to express our own freedom and work so others can enjoy theirs. Both in Nigeria and in California, people should be free to watch the World Cup together without fearing an Islamic invasion.

More thoughts about religious liberty

 

2 Persecution Lessons from a Keeper’s Broken Leg


Well, this isn’t exactly from the 2014 Fifa World Cup, but it is related to soccer and, more importantly, to our persecuted family.

Before the game, our team took note of the size of the goalie. He was at least 6’3” and weighed in at a solid 280. He was a big guy—like a mountain with a t-shirt. We thought (or hoped) his size would limit his agility, but then we realized he wouldn’t need agility because he filled the goal simply by standing in front of it.

Unfortunately, this young man broke his leg on a freak play shortly after the game began.  We never got an2 persecution lesson's from broken leg opportunity to see what kind of goalie he would be. Though we didn’t get to learn much about his goal-keeping skills, we did get a chance to learn a couple of important lessons from him.  At least, I learned from watching this accident unfold.  From watching this injury drama play out, I realized two important lessons about the church in relation to persecution.

Lesson One: Suffering as One

First, this young man broke his leg, but his entire—uncommonly large—body had to be hoisted onto a gurney.  His entire body was taken to the hospital—not just his leg. The reason is obvious. Bodies are a single unity of several parts. Paul talks about this in 1 Corinthians 12, describing how the church is a body of many parts, each doing its own job, but all being unified as one.  In the same sense, each congregation belongs to every other congregation as one, universal reality called the body of Christ.

In Hebrews 13:3, the writer states plainly that all Christians (in all churches around the world) should remember the 2 Persecution Lessons from Broken Legpersecuted church “since you yourselves are in the body.”  There is one body, and all Christians are a part of it. The body suffers and triumphs as one.  The idea that a Christian could live unaware of the persecuted church is as unthinkable in the New Testament as the idea that this king-sized goalkeeper could play a soccer game without his left leg.  Bodies are very much aware when even the smallest parts are hurt, injured, or diseased. The whole body suffers as one. I saw this lesson plainly as the ambulance took this player away.

Lesson Two: Healing as One

Second, just as the body suffers as one, so, too, the body heals together as one. There is energy expended by one part of the body (the healthy part) in order to speed aid and healing to the other part.  Again, this goalkeeper helped me to see profound reality.

The game we played against his team was part of a high school soccer tournament. So, later in the evening—after he was discharged from the hospital, this goalie came back to the field to support his team.  Obviously, his leg was in a cast, and he was using crutches.  The crutches were the key for me to unlock this second lesson.

This young man is using greater energy and strength from his upper body in order to minister to the needs of his lower, injured body.  In the same way, as we minister to the persecuted church, we will both speed her healing and strengthen ourselves. This keeper is going to get stronger in his arms and his shoulders from lugging a 280 lb. frame around the schoolyard over the next two months. Just as you’ve heard that blind people often have more highly developed hearing, so, too, this lower body weakness will lead this goalkeeper to upper body strength.

We in America who suffer lighter persecution than our brothers and sisters abroad, should remember that we are one body with them. We ought to suffer with them (as though in prison with them).  As we do this, we, too, should get stronger in our faith. God has designed bodies to work as one, the stronger parts ministering to the weaker, while both are being made stronger.

Who knew that a soccer tournament with a terrible injury would serve as such a great reminder of our responsibility as Christians to remember those who are persecuted for the sake of Christ? What is your understanding of Christian responsibility to the persecuted?

 Persecution is a social justice issue

One Reason It’s So Important for All Christians to Understand Persecution 

9 Reasons to Watch the 2014 World Cup


Should Christians Watch the World Cup?

The short answer (for me) is “Yes.” Whatever we do, we do all to the glory of God.  Can the 2014 FIFA World Cup be watched to the glory of God?  Each Christian will want to answer that question for himself.  As for me, I have answered the question with 9 ways to watch the World Cup to the glory of God. (By the way, we are planning World Cup parties both for fellowship and outreach purposes). Here we go…

World Cup Christians Glory God

(c) Getty Images

9.     The World Cup—like no other sport really—focuses our attention on the world.  I have a tendency to be “parochial,” meaning that I tend to think like an American, but Christ is reigning over all the earth.  So, watching Brazil, Iran, and South Korea play soccer causes me to think of the Christians I have met from those places, remembering the sweet fellowship we share which cannot be separate by oceans, skin color, language, or cultural peculiarities.  Soccer unites the world like no other sport, (though such unity is but a dim reflection of that secured by the Christ of John 17).

8.    Soccer is more fun when watched in a group.  Bars and pubs everywhere draw great crowds for futbol cheers.  Christians can join together, too, to watch soccer.  While doing so, Christians join together with fellow believers all over the world.  Just imagine that in every country represented in the World Cup, there are Christian brothers and sisters.  Even in Iran, for instance, there are brothers and sisters in Christ.  Indeed, it might be a good reminder when we see those countries to pray for the believers who certainly are alive there.  They are often in grave danger from persecution.  Christians can be found in each of the 32 countries of the World Cup because Christ has purchased them from every nation, tribe, and tongue.

http://www.espnfc.us/fifa-world-cup/4/video/1870852/united-states-chances-at-the-world-cup

7.    The World Cup provides a very stiff level of competition, and competition is indicative of the reality of life in a fallen world.  Concentrating on the defense and the incredible power and precision necessary to break through it allows me to think of the manner in which Christ has broken through the most potent forces marshaled by the prince of the power of the air.  Competition and struggle are but dim reminders of the one Christ who has defeated all enemies—including sin and death—and is now waiting as they are becoming a footstool for His feet.

6.    The World Cup is not shy to pronounce a winner.  As in most sports, the goal is to be the champion.  The World Cup will not allow everyone to go home a winner.  There is but one trophy.  There will be one winner, and the other 31 teams go home losers.  The reason this is helpful to me is that it reminds me that Christ was tolerant in many ways that His fellow religious leaders were not, but, in the end, He made it plain that there is 1 way and 1 way only that leads to life (John 14:6).

5.    Related to the “1-way” post above is the reality of triumph.  As Christians, we tend to shy away from concepts of triumph, thinking that we ought not to gloat.  While it is certainly true that we must not gloat, it is also true that triumph itself is glorious.  Christ has triumphed over His enemies and made a public spectacle of them (Colossians 2:15).  I hope the U.S. triumphs over the competition in the 2014 World Cup.

4.    Related to triumph is glory.  One of the greatest lessons in all sports is the lesson of glory.  If sports is about anything, it is about glory.  While it Brazil World Cup Christian Glory Godmay be true that most of the athletes in the 2014 FIFA World Cup have their eyes fixed on a “perishable wreath,” nevertheless, glory abounds. There are so many stories of athletes like Julio Cesar (goalie for Brazil) who had to overcome injury, defeat, and rejection, but now seeks redemption and gives glory to God.  In truth, most of the FIFA athletes are pursuing glory, while more than a billion people are watching—hoping to see it.

3.    Related to glory is the suffering required to achieve it.  In Christ, the greatest suffering resulted in the highest glory.  The stories of agonizing workouts and overcoming both enemies and injuries reflect—even if only to a small extent—the glory of the triumphant Christ.  These World Cup athletes are suffering injury and ridicule in their pursuit of glory.  By the time the U.S. wins the World Cup (!), there will have been many trials suffered through and overcome.  Their perseverance will be exalted along with their skill.  No matter who wins, perseverance will prove to have been a key element of their glorious triumph.  And, again, this perseverance is what Christ calls us to and what He Himself modeled perfectly in overcoming sin, death, temptation.  According to Philippians 2, this perseverance ends with his being exalted to the highest place of Heaven.

2.    Related to suffering and perseverance is the constant reminder in soccer that we live in a fallen world.  So often, referees will get the calls wrong.  They are human, and they fail.  Unlike in other sports, soccer leaves these errors in as part of the game, and I am glad they do.  They are part of life.  If you can’t overcome the errors made by yourself and others, you won’t accomplish much in this fallen world.  In other words, FIFA allows injustice to be part of the game because it forces teams to overcome.  This is real world stuff.  Life does not offer us a “further review.”  Once a word is spoken or a deed is done, it cannot be overruled or undone.  Thankfully, it can be redeemed.

1.    And speaking of redemption, the number 1 way to watch the World Cup to the glory of God is to watch for the cross.  The cross makes soccer “the beautiful game,” as Pele was quick to call it.  I agree.  Soccer is a beautiful game.  A central aspect of that beauty is the cross, which causes one player to expose himself to the defense, then sacrifice his ability to score so that someone else receives the goal and the glory.  What could be more beautiful?  Christ drew the enemy to Himself, took all the venom and poison the enemy could muster, then, at the cross, he sacrificed Himself so that others might become partakers of His glory.  Not even soccer is more beautiful than the cross of Christ.  Soccer is the beautiful game, but Christ is the beautiful Savior whose light eclipses all the lesser glory of sports.

Watch a beautiful cross here:

What Are Your Thoughts About the Future for Christians in America?


As usual, Wanda’s café was crowded during the lunch hour, so my student and I decided to head outdoors under the breezeway to enjoy our fresh-grilled meals, which, in my case, included a side order of crispy fries sprinkled with that patented bay seasoning lightly coating them, giving them a salty, spicy kick to accompany the ham and melted Swiss on ciabatta—Sorry! I digress…

WandasSign Conversation PersecutionAs we enjoyed our meals outside, in the cool of the shade, Jordan and I spoke—as best we could envision it—of the future of Christianity in America. Neither of us felt any hint of an Eeyore complex, where we lived under a cloud of gloomy expectations; yet we invariably returned again and again to the concept of Christian suffering. Regardless of where our topic began—he was asking me questions related to a research project he was conducting—we always came full circle back to the idea that the future of Christianity in the next half century would be markedly different from that of its recent past. The future of Christianity in America includes increased marginalization and, most likely, increased persecution.

This sentiment is one that is “felt” or “sensed” at the grassroots level in evangelical churches because Christians are feeling isolated and silenced at work.  However, it still is not fully on the radar of Christian academics. Increasingly, as a result of the Supreme Court DOMA decision last summer, academics are realizing that conflict over the sinfulness of homosexual behavior is on the horizon. Dr. Mohler made the point plainly this past week with his post, “No Third Way.” His message in that post was that churches will be forced to decide one way or the other on the acceptableness (or sinfulness) of homosexual practice. There will be no third way of holding firmly to the truth of Scripture while also keeping in step with the cultural norms of sexual practice.

Still, even with prominent evangelicals beginning to notice the clash ahead, I think that too few scholars are paying attention to persecution itself. I have presented a paper on the topic at the annual meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society (ETS) in the past. And, Lord willing, I may do so again this November. ETS is the largest annual gathering of evangelical scholars in the U.S. Even if my paper is accepted, it will represent only the slightest exposure in the overall scheme of Christian academic research.

At the ETS annual meeting, there will be about 700 papers presented. There will not be even 7 papers at ETS which discuss persecution in the New Testament. There will be dozens of papers discussing the biblical doctrine of inerrancy and authority (as there ought to be). There will be dozens more discussing the doctrine of ecclesiology (and rightly so). But there will also be a great many papers dealing with esoteric, navel-gazing topics which amount to nothing more than “straw,” as Thomas Aquinas put it.

Meanwhile, Meriam Ibrahim is likely to be killed in Sudan for maintaining her faith in Christ. Asia Bibi has been separated from her husband and children for 1,250 days, locked in a Pakistani prison with the death sentence hanging over her head. Christians in Eritrea are confined in metal cargo containers, being allowed so little room that they cannot even lie down for sleeping.  Christ’s sheep are being slaughtered by the wolves of the world, and we’re mired in conversations about how Christians might best care for whales.

–I’m not opposed to whale care. I love whales. I paid a hefty sum of money at Newport Beach so my family and I could see these massive creatures. They truly are an awesome feature in the splendor of God’s creation. They are living beings and, thus, warrant our proper stewardship of them. Yet, they are not people. They are not human beings created in the image of God, and, more importantly, they are not the threatened and oppressed church of God which was purchased by Him at the cost of His own blood!

I expect that more and more Christians in America will soon be wrestling with what it means to lose a job on account of Christian faith. More and more, we will be faced with needy Christians in our churches—Christian teachers who get fired because of Christian convictions. Christian churches that are smaller, poorer, and, likely, pastored by a bi-vocational minister.

We all need to be thinking and speaking soberly about what persecution means. Why does persecution happen to the righteous? Why do all of the China Christians persecutedNew Testament writers (with the possible exception of Jude) think that persecution is a topic which they need to address in their sacred writings? How should Christians respond to suffering on account of Christ? What do the blessings—which Jesus, Peter, John, and James reference—mean for those who suffer for the sake of righteousness? Christian scholars can help us answer these soon-to-be pertinent questions.

In the face of an ever-intensifying fury against Christ and His church, there is an urgent need for writing and thinking about persecution and pastoral ministry.  I think now is the time to focus on such work.

Christians are losing their freedoms at a record pace all over the world. They are on the verge of being extinct throughout the Middle East. And we all—I, too—have been guilty of a little too much whale-watching.  We need to focus more attention where Christ is intensely at work—caring for his abused Bride and suffering Body, loving His Church.

If Jordan and I had any foresight at all, then a new day for Christianity is rising quickly in the west. Fading like a distant dream is the vision of a moral majority. In its place is a moral—and persecuted—minority.  The future of Christianity will look less and less like the evangelicalism of 1994 and more and more like that found in Acts 14 and Hebrews 10 and 1 Corinthians 15 and Revelation 12.

“Do not be deceived. Anyone who desires to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3:12).

I’m curious. Do you agree with me and Jordan? Is there a growing sense of persecution increasing in the U.S.? Does this seem right to you?

What Should I Read This Summer?


I once saw a Facebook status which confused me: “I’m sooooo bored,” it read. I wondered–with so many great books and so much to explore–how could anyone be bored?

Book Schaeffer How Then LiveBelow is my service to any who might be tempted to boredom. Here is a list of some helpful and Biblically sound literature. I compiled this list (or one closely like it) for a student of mine who asked what he should read this summer. These are not recommended as “must -reads.”  And they are not listed in any particular order. They are simply some of the books thinking Christians will want to read.

I hope this list sparks your interest in learning more. The list covers hermeneutics, apologetics, theology, pastoral ministry, productivity, and even history. I tried to offer a variety of topics. Enjoy.

  1. Robert Stein, A Basic Guide to Interpreting the Bible: Playing by the Rules.
    1. Dr. Stein’s book is deceptively simple. It reads as a basic introduction to reading the Bible, but it is thoroughly informed by the most important trends in hermeneutics. Dr. Stein is a gifted writer, and this book is profoundly simple in offering a few rules for how to approach the Scriptures, taking into account authorial intent, genre, text criticism, etc.
  2. Matt Perman, What’s Best Next: How the Gospel Transforms the Way You Get Things Done
    1. Matt has done a great job of sorting through the latest literature on business, productivity, and efficiency. He then interprets that literature through the lens of the gospel to produce a helpful resource for making the most of our time as Christians.
  3. R. C. Sproul, Willing to Believe
    1. In this classic overview of the literature related to the age-old question of God’s sovereignty vs. Free will, R. C. Sproul offers a thorough Book Willing Believe Free will sovereigntyintroduction to the best arguments for and against “Free –will.” He traces the debate from the Scripture through Augustine, Calvin, Arminius, Edwards, to the present. It is amazing how succinctly and clearly he is able to cover so much ground.
  4. R. C. Sproul, Getting the Gospel Right
    1. In this volume, R. C. Sproul—somewhat controversially—takes aim at some of the more stalwart evangelical Christians of our day. His reason is to protect the gospel from the errors of the Reformation. Even if he might be deemed too harsh in his criticism, Sproul does a great job in this book of highlighting the importance of Reformation distinctions related to the gospel.
  5. Carl F. H. Henry, Twilight of a Great Civilization
    1. Written in the late 1980’s, this book by Carl Henry proved prescient indeed. He spoke of the “drift” in culture and offered a Christian response which proved to be prophetic. His remedies are still worth considering by those wishing to remain evangelical in a world which emphatically is not. Henry is too quickly being dismissed by evangelicals today. We need to keep reading the works of this brilliant stalwart of our Christian faith.
  6. John R. W. Stott, The Preacher’s Portrait
    1. For those who are pastors, or those wishing to be pastors, or even those just wishing to understand the basic nature of pastoral ministry, John Stott has written a simple little volume which offers a snapshot of the pastoral life. His style is simple and clear. This is a very helpful little volume.
  7. Donald S. Whitney, Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life
    1. Don Whitney is a gifted writer and speaker. This book—which is about to be released in an updated anniversary edition—should be required reading for every Christian. He walks through the Christian disciplines in a simple, step-by-step way. His work is as encouraging as it is enjoyable to read. For anyone who has not read this work, you should start here. Dr. Whitney is a reliable guide for the Christian faith.
  8. Ron Nash, The Meaning of History
    1. For a change of pace, I offer this intriguing read. It isn’t a long book, and it is well written, but, I will warn you, it is a work of philosophy.Book Meaning History philosophy time hebrews As philosophy books go, this one is easy to read, but the ideas are profound. Dr. Nash demonstrates how important the Christian view of history is. We take this view for granted, but such a view of history is fading as our culture reinvents itself in a non-Christian way.
  9. J. I. Packer, Knowing God
    1. Hopefully, you have already read Packer’s classic volume on the basic proposition that we are able to know God through His revelation. This book is foundational in many ways. It is, as I sad, an evangelical classic. The book has been in print for 4 decades and has sold millions of copies.
  10. Francis Schaeffer, How Should We Then Live
    1. Like Carl Henry, so, too, Francis Schaeffer’s voice was absolutely prophetic. All the dangers about which he warned us have unfolded over the last 30 years. This book by Schaeffer has been a foundational work in apologetics, particularly from the presuppositional perspective. It is still very much worth reading because of the manner in which Schaeffer traces ideas through history which have brought us to our present state of affairs. Schaeffer is an outstanding writer.

I hope at least some of these titles will interest you, as you continue to be transformed by the renewing of your mind.

Can Christians Read Pagan Literature?


Should Christians read pagan literature? The question is a fair one, considering that more than one place in Scripture expects the believer to renew his mind and do everything he does to the glory of God. It’s hard to see how Buffy the Vampire Slayer might be considered mind-renewing. It may be even more difficult to place The DaVinci Code in a category anywhere close to “devotional.”

Christianity pagan literature glory GodYet I’m wondering if we might be asking the wrong question when we ask whether we can read pagan literature. The question can we—as though we really hope we get permission to do something that might be bad but we really want to do it anyway because everyone else is doing it—sets us up for a yes-or-no, up-or-down decision. But maybe the answer is not yes-or-no. Maybe there is a better question for us to ask regarding pagan literature:  How are Christians to read non-Christian literature?  There are two reasons that asking how is better than asking if we can.

First, in a very real sense, there is no way to avoid reading pagan literature, if one reads at all.  Think about the non-Christian writing that makes up our daily lives: Billboards, advertisements, newspapers, owner’s manuals, textbooks, school reading assignments, and terms of agreement (you do read those, right?).  As Paul told the Corinthians, we would have to go out of the world to avoid contact with unbelievers. There is no way to avoid some pagan literature.

So, second, asking how are we to read pagan literature makes better sense because it focuses the responsibility on the individual Christian to practice discernment, rather than pretending there is some inherent righteousness which makes the abstaining Christian superior to the Homer-reading one. Asking how means the Christian takes seriously the task of renewing his mind and doing only what can be done to the glory of God.

When it comes to asking how to read pagan literature, perhaps no Christian has explained the dynamic better than Peter Leithart. His two books—The Brightest Heaven of Invention and Heroes of the City of Man—are practically guidebooks, complete with “walk-along-beside-me-and-hold-my-hand-while-I-show-you-how-to-do-this” instructions. Leithart makes two simply profound statements beneficial for all who wrestle with this important question.

  • 1.  Leithart acknowledges that there is no imperative for Christians to read non-Christian literature. As he puts it,

Christians have no more moral duty to read and study Greek and Roman literature than ancient Israelites had a duty to study the myths of Baal and Asteroth [sic].  Nor should Christian schools or homeschoolers think that they can have a good Christian education only if the ‘classics’ are prominent in the curriculum. The goal of Christian education is to train a child to be faithful in serving God and His kingdom in a calling, and certainly this goal can be achieved by a student who never cracked the cover of a Homeric epic.

And he continues,

Given the appalling ignorance of the Bible among evangelical Christians today, mastering Scripture must be an overwhelming priority in all Christian education. If one must choose between studying Leviticus and Livy, Habakkuk or Homer, Acts or Aeschylus, the decision is, to my mind, perfectly evident, and the point holds even if the non-biblical literature were Christian.  The genealogies of 1 Chronicles 1-9 are vastly more important to study than Dante, Shakespeare, Milton, or Dickens….

And we could add Suzanne Collins’s Hunger Games.  How are Christians to read pagan literature? The Christian imperative is first to understand all that Jesus has commanded. The Christian who has not yet mastered Scripture does not need to ask the question “can I read pagan literature.” Instead, he or she would need to ask, “How can I read pagan literature…when I am still so ignorant of what I claim is most important?”   The how question, in this case, answers itself.

  • 2.  Leithart explains the how question another way. “Assuming a student has a strong grounding in Scripture, there may be good reasons for taking up a study of other literature… Daniel and his three friends learned the language and literature of the Chaldeans (Dan. 1:4).”

Likewise, Paul quoted pagan poets to make theological points which called unbelievers to repentance.  Leithart offers a number of biblical examples, then concludes,

God, in short, calls us to war against the idols…. With ideas and literature, the confrontation between the Bible and paganism will be more intense, but with great care and wisdom, we can plunder even pagan literature and make it work for us. As Proverbs says, the wealth of the wicked is stored up for the righteous (Prov 13:22).

Asking the how question concerning non-Christian literature puts the perspective back on redemption. How can this literature glorify God? There is a way, but it takes hard work, wisdom, and great care. Those unwilling to engage in the difficult work of redeeming fallen literature—those wishing only the entertainment value of paganism—have not yet learned how to read pagan literature.

But I think Leithart is right, there is a way to read pagan literature to the glory of God. We just have to learn how.  How do you think Christians can read pagan literature to the glory of God?

Helpful Primer on Persecution


Christianity percentage by country

Christianity percentage by country (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

Bob Fu, China Aid, and Our Faithful God


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

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

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

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

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

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

A Simple Thank You


I know Thanksgiving is over, and now it is Christmas. So, I am a little late saying, ‘Thank-you.” But I will make it up by offering you a present. The present probably won’t be ready by Christmas, but you have my word that you will get it.

I am in the process of publishing two books in the coming year. I don’t know exactly how or where these books will be published, Persecution in Americabut, Lord willing, they will be published this coming year.

I am writing this post to thank you for subscribing to and reading my blog. I really appreciate your visiting this blog. I hope that you are informed and challenged and, especially, encouraged by some of what you read here. I hope that this blog improves your mind and your thinking–even when you need to disagree.

I am pledging to make the book available to you first. I will give away as many free copies as possible, and I will keep all of you in mind when I do. I would love to give the book to all of you for free, but we will have to see what the publishers say about that! I will do all I can to get it into your hands (or on your Kindles).  Thank you for reading my blog.

P.S. I will be writing on Christian persecution in America. Let me know if you are interested in such a book.

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


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

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

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

If You Don’t Judge Others, You Are Dumb


No Scripture is quoted more often than the proverbial, “judge not” passage of Matthew 7:1. Whatever its iteration, this statement appears welcome in every college classroom and any political conversation. It’s probably the only Bible verse with universal appeal. The sayings, “We mustn’t judge” or “I try not to judge others,” are threatening to overtake the frequency of expressions like “How are you?” on the list popular parlance.

At the risk of being a fish out of water, I baldly proclaim, “Refusing to judge others is the height of stupidity and a Judge Not But Judgevacuous absence of love.” There, I said it. The rest of my time will be an attempt to persuade my good readers to avoid this stupidity and, of course, be more encouraged to love.

It is a stupid thought to say that you mustn’t judge others.  If you fail to judge rightly between those who tell the truth and those who tell lies, you will end up believing lies and living an illusion. You will be a Yo-Yo for every fool who cries “Wolf!”  You will also be very poor, as you will believe every TV ad which commands you to act now on an offer you cannot refuse.  Failing to judge the veracity of others’ speech is simply stupid. You must judge others.

Typically, the judgment in question relates only to moral judgments. So, when people say “Don’t judge,” they mean don’t judge the morality of others—particularly their sexual morals. More often than not, quoting the verse “Judge not” refers to not telling others that their sexual preferences are wrong.  This refusal to judge is—in my humble opinion—vacuously unloving.  Here is what I mean.

Knowing what is known now about Jerry Sandusky (the former football coach at Penn State who has been convicted of serial child molestation) and Kevin Clash (the creator and voice of Elmo on Sesame Street), a parent would be criminally negligent to allow his son to be alone with either of these men. While Kevin Clash has not yet been convicted of any crime, he has been credibly accused by at least two men of having sex with boys under the age of 18.  Clash has not yet denied the charges. He only says that he is working to resolve his “personal matters privately.”

Sexual sins (as we learned in the case of Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky) are supposed to be private matters and should not be any of the public’s business.  So, Clash is hoping to resolve his “private” sexual matters privately.  Any parent who buys that claptrap is foolishly unloving toward his child. Would you send your son off for a visit with someone about whom there is credible evidence of sexual exploitation? Sex is no longer a private matter when it threatens your son or daughter.

Lady Justice Judge othersWhile it is true that we must not judge Kevin Clash guilty of all the crimes he is being charged with until after a trial has brought forth all the evidence, it is also true that some measure of judgment is required already when it comes to protecting children. Clash himself understands this and, so, has resigned for now from Sesame Street.  Unfortunately, Sesame Street’s on statement is (again in my opinion) culpably weak, stating only that this is “a sad day for them.”  A sad day for them?  What about concern for the safety of children who may be targeted for sexual exploitation?

If you have any intelligence whatsoever, you will in fact judge the statements and actions of others. If you have any love in your heart for your children, you absolutely must make judgments about the sexual practices of your neighbors and about whether or not you want your children to spend time with them.  Matthew 7:1—like the rest of Scripture—speaks about how to judge rightly (from God’s perspective) rather than persisting in judging wrongly (from a self-righteous perspective). Maybe we would be helped by quoting John 7:24 more often: “Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment.”

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

God and Money


English: Flag of Milwaukee, Wisconsin

English: Flag of Milwaukee, Wisconsin (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What happens when a theologian crosses paths with an economist? It sounds like a bad joke. But the question is pertinent, considering that a new book is on the horizon which combines clear theology with sound economic principles.

One of the benefits of attending ETS in Milwaukee was hearing Wayne Grudem defend this thesis: “God does not require or even authorize the state to redistribute wealth–except for a welfare safety net.”  Dr. Grudem offered the session as a preview to an upcoming book. He has already sent the manuscript to the publishers so watch for the book in 2013.

Grudem’s basic outline is so practical that it is difficult to see how anyone can miss the point, but, of course, our last election is Exhibit 1A in the evidence room against such practicality in economics. Grudem asserts first that the power of government is great and therefore exceptionally dangerous. The government bears the power of the sword and can coerce its will on its citizens.

Second, Grudem explains that the government is expected to fulfill several functions, but wealth distribution is not among them.  Punishing evil, promoting good order, and establishing justice (not fairness) is among the important tasks of government, while equalizing income and property have no place in government function.

Third, Grudem shows that the Bible expects private property ownership, not communal government property. Individuals are to own the land and thus possess the wealth of a nation. Governments must be held in check so that the “king” does not exact the wealth from his people.

Fourth, Grudem demonstrates how justice is concerned with a standard of righteousness–not with counting coins to make sure everyone has the same amount. The government should prevent crime and enforce contracts, but it should not take money from some to buy votes from others and thus to keep all in subjection.

Grudem’s work is timely (as always). The book should be a very helpful resource when it arrives. In the meantime, Grudem suggests a book by Jay Richards: Money, Greed, and God.

Will Germany Help Syrian Christians


Deutsch: Dr. Angela Merkel Bundeskanzlerin der...

Deutsch: Dr. Angela Merkel Bundeskanzlerin der Bundesrepublik Deutschland Vorsitzende der CDU Deutschlands (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As the founder of a ministry to the persecuted church, I am well aware of the serious degree to which Christians are suffering from North Korea around the globe and back to Malaysia. In Africa, Asia, and the Middle East, Christians are routinely beaten, imprisoned, or killed because their faith in Jesus Christ cannot stay secret or silent.

There is no doubt that Christians are the most persecuted people on the planet right now, but Angela Merkel, the Chancellor of Germany and the daughter of a Christian pastor, has come under inexplicable fire for stating what ought to be obvious to all: Christians are in danger.

Thankfully, Chancellor Merkel has not cowered yet to the liberal pressure to stop standing up for Christians. In fact, Merkel recently called on Germany to exercise its right to defend Christians by welcoming the persecuted Christians from Syria. As I have chronicled before, Christians in Syria are being squeezed from both sides and are in severe danger of being wiped out completely in some areas.

Without a doubt, many in the German government will fight her efforts to protect and preserve Syrian Christians; so we must pray for Germany and for Merkel. We must be thankful that at least one European leader has the moral fortitude to see the violence for what it is and to actually reach out to those in greatest need, rather than sitting on the fence hoping not to “anger” those who are violently imposing their religion on all Syrians.

Thank you, Angela Merkel, and (hopefully) thank you, too, Germany.

How the Blessing of Persecution Works


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

One Night for the World


For 11 years, Cedar Grove Baptist Church has been working to get Christians together on One Night for the World.  Sunday night, November 11, is the one night we have set aside this year to pray for persecuted Christians. We will be praying for Christians in Nigeria. The entire event will be streamed live at CedarGroveBaptist.org.
One Night for the World Pray for Persecuted Church Nigeria

 

The Muslim Persecution of Christians Continues Unhindered


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

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

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

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

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

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

What will we do?

 

Does Religion Lead to War? (God Is Not the Problem)


One of the great advantages of reading news online is the benefit of immediate feedback. The comment section is like an instant collection of letters to the editor.  While reading through such comments recently, I came across an all-too-common refrain: “Stop killing in the name of god. If religious zealots could just learn tolerance, we’d all be better off.”

Typically, this kind of comment is made against all religions equally. The meme is repeated more often now since Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, and Christopher Hitchens

Crusades Christian violence war

(Public Domain)

popularized atheism with zeal surpassing even the most ardent, spiked-hair Christian evangelists. Though popular, the mantra is woefully misguided and diabolically untrue.

Religion is not the cause of war. Most religions, in fact, promote peace and offer peace a viable window of opportunity. The only major religion which prescribes war is Islam. Other religions—Judaism, Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism—seek (through various means) to promote personal peace and, thus, promote harmony among the masses. To repeat the refrain that religion causes war is to betray ignorance of religion, history, and anthropology.

Religion

Religion does not seek war. Christianity, for instance, commands followers to seek peace and pursue it (1 Peter 3:11). Christians are to be harmonious, sympathetic, brotherly, kind-hearted, and humble in spirit (1 Peter 3:8).  To claim that religion is the root cause of war is to prove ignorance of the instructions found in religions like Christianity.

No doubt, the skeptic mocks such religious instructions on account of the historical reality of religious violence. Christianity and other religions have launched wars. No one should deny that violence has occurred often in the name of religion. However, such violence happens in spite of religion, not because of it. Religious people have at times failed their own religion.

Christians betrayed their faith when they slaughtered Jews in Jerusalem during the Crusades. Likewise, Buddhists in Sri Lanka went against the teachings of Buddha when they slaughtered minorities during a civil war in that country (which cost about 50,000 lives). Religious people often fail to live up to their own ideals. They are hypocrites at times. Such hypocrisy is, without a doubt, a blight on their religion. Nevertheless, religion itself is not to blame. The blame lies with the sinful representatives of said religions. Blaming religion when hypocrites defame its teachings is like blaming the team owner when a player fumbles the ball. The owner did not expect him to fumble, nor did he desire it. The player is responsible for the mistake and will be held appropriately accountable.

History

Those who blame war on religion also expose their own ignorance of history. While it is true (as stated above) that Christians, Buddhists, and others have engaged in violence and war, it is not at all true that these wars constitute the majority of the wars in history. Using the examples above—the Crusades and the civil war in Sri Lanka—these religious wars accounted for about 250,000 deaths.

While a quarter of a million deaths in the name of religious zeal is horrific, it is also (by historical comparison) rather tame.  As a matter of sad, historical fact, atheism has Graph of religion atheism death totals proved more deadly by far.  Communists sought by definition to rid their societies of sectarian religious violence. In the name of atheism and the utilitarian goal of what is good for the state, Communism unleashed human blood-baths on a scale unimaginable before the 20th century.

In Cambodia, Pol Pot killed 3 million. Stalin killed as many as 20 million. And Chairman Mao likely killed over 50 million in China. However bad one considers the Crusades to be, Stalin’s “Society of the Godless” was by number 100 times worse.  Even with the rise of militant Islam in the 20th century, atheism still proved a far more destructive force against humanity than religion. If religion is bad, the lack of it is apparently 100-300 times worse.

Anthropology

Finally, statements blaming religion for violence and war show little reflection on the nature of humanity itself. War is not the product of religious zeal bubbling over into the secular realm. Violence and war have but a single root: sinful humanity.  The reason there is violence, murder, rape, and war is because there is a battle raging in every human soul.

Each person is bound in a personal struggle against sin and unrighteousness. Each soul is at war against its own best interests. Each soul struggles to do what is right in the face of overwhelming desire to do what is wrong.  And so, each soul must battle personal guilt and the temptation to place blame on others.

In Christian terms, the case proves to be as advertised by the ancient prophet Jeremiah, “The heart is desperately sick. Who can understand it?”

The Apostle Paul describes human sin in much darker tones:

There is none righteous, not even one… Their feet are swift to shed blood, destruction and misery are in their paths, and the path of peace they have not known. There is no fear of God before their eyes… (Romans 3).

Paul’s prescription for such people is to come to know the Prince of Peace and to walk the narrow way of life, being justified as a gift by God’s grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus. God’s prescription is peace through the redeeming sacrifice of the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. That is pure religion. That is the hope for peace. That is the hope for every individual, including you and me. Thank God, there is hope for peace.

Religion, then, is neither the problem behind war nor the solution for it. Religion, if it is right, will point to Christ who is bringing all wars to an end.

An Important Event You Don’t Have to Miss


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

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

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

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

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

 

Blame Christians: An Old Practice Finds New Life in Malaysia


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

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

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

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

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

Window St. Augustine City of God Christian persecution

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why Are Some Folks So Darned Creative?


 

Steve Jobs died one year ago. The value of his life and the effects of his ideas will remain with us for decades.  Steve Jobs was one of the most creative guys who ever lived. But he is not the only techno-creator of our lifetime.

I thought it might be encouraging for us to remember just how creative we human beings can be. Lately, I have been focusing much on some of the more dismal aspects of our humanity (like violence, murder, and persecution). Let’s take a day to be more positive and remember just how creative people can be.

Herald Haas, a German physicist, had a proverbial “light bulb” go off in his head. He literally imagined a light bulb functioning like a wi-fi router. Now, he is leading a team of Creativity creation li fi imago deiresearchers at the University of Edinburgh to harness the power of light bulbs to serve as wi-fi transmitters. If his technology is perfected, then consumers will be able to access wi-fi pretty much anywhere there is a light. This new technology is being dubbed “Li-fi.”

In the auto industry, safety innovation has been at the top of the priority list since at least 1965 when Ralph Nader published his critical book Unsafe at Any Speed.  From side airbag restraints to rearview cameras, auto makers have pursued relentlessly the next improvement to offer consumers. The next innovation may be here. Scientists from Japan have equipped a Toyota Prius with a “see-through” back end.

They have configured video cameras to picture everything that is behind the car, and, through amazing technology, they are able to project the view to the driver. In other words, when the driver looks back, he doesn’t see the back seat; he sees everything behind him as though there were no back seats in the way. This “behind-the-car” view is available only to the driver. No one else sees “through” the back seats. Obviously, there are many safety advantages to such an innovation.

I share these innovations because they speak of the indefatigable creativity of human beings created in the image of God. As God Himself delights to shout forth glory from the things He has created (Psalm 19), so, too, do human beings delight to put forth our best efforts for the glory of creativity.

 

Nope! Jesus Had No Wife. Fragment Is Fake


 

About 5 days ago, I posted the news that a gospel fragment was found stating that Jesus had a wife. In that post, I noted how foolish the hype was for insinuating that the fragment was proof of another gospel. Now, it appears my post was correct.  The so-called controversy of the gospel of Jesus’s wife has been exposed as nothing more than sensationalism masking itself as scholarship.

According to Daniel B. Wallace, the Harvard Theological Review has decided not to run the Professor King article concerning the gospel of Jesus’s wife because the fragment on which King’s article relied has been deemed a fake. Better luck next time, Professor King.

 

 

Do You Believe in Miracles (Part 3 of 3)


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

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

Miracle lame man healed

Lame Man Healed

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

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

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

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

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

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

Did Jesus Have a Wife?


There’s a new controversy a-brewing, and it’s all by design. Professor Karen King is promoting the novel idea that gospel jesus wife controversy Jesus had a wife.  She has found a fragment—supposedly from the 4th century (though not yet attested)—which contains the line, “Jesus said to them, My wife….”

Whether anyone in the 4th century actually wrote that line, we do not yet know. We do know that Jesus had a bride—the church (Ephesians 5).  And we know something else: Professor King has not uncovered “The Gospel of Jesus’s Wife,” as she is now calling the fragment.

Referring to a fragment in this way is like calling a business card a biography. As a matter of fact, the fragment is a little smaller than a business card. It contains maybe 30 words in Coptic script. It is hardly sufficient evidence for anything, much less proof that Christianity had lots of different gospels that taught lots of different things (which is the professors real aim—not just in this latest controversy but in all her “scholarship.”)

Dr. Mohler has a full review of the latest claims Professor King is making in regard to a wife for Jesus. His critique is excellent and thorough. For those of you who do not have the time to read through his fuller critique, I offer Dr. Mohler’s final assessment of the matter:

“The Gospel of Jesus’ Wife?” Not hardly. This is sensationalism masquerading as scholarship. Nevertheless, do not miss what all this really represents — an effort to replace biblical Christianity with an entirely new faith.

The reason Dr. Mohler asserts that this is an effort to replace biblical Christianity with an entirely new faith is that news outlets have been all too eager to report the fragment find as though it were actually a new gospel. No new gospel has been found. And, even if it were a whole gospel account, why would anyone on the basis of a single 4th century document consider overturning 20 centuries of tradition which is based on thousands and thousands of documents—many of which were written within decades of Jesus’s life on earth?

The entire affair is a sad commentary of the state of scholarship at Harvard Divinity and in America more generally.  If this is scholarship, then we might as well say business cards are literature and bumper stickers are fine poetry. There is no such thing as a gospel of Jesus’s wife.

Are We Losing Our Free Speech? Two Stories Which Make the Point


Earlier in the week, I noted how the largest American mosque is equivocating on free speech. Now, two more stories have erupted which keep the issue on the table of concern for anyone who cares about basic human rights.

First, the U. N. Secretary General (Ban ki-moon) asserted that stringent limits should be placed on free speech. Free speech lost two stories christianSpecifically, he notes 2 general guides which would severely limit (if not eliminate altogether) free speech.

The first limit he thinks should be imposed is positive: Speech should be free as long as it promotes common justice and the common good. While this sounds “positive,” it is actually destructive. Who decides “common justice” and “common good”?  Most likely, it will be the group with the most uncommon political clout. This means there will be no minority dissent possible, as it would go against what is perceived as the common good. That this concern is accurate is reflected in the fact that Ban’s comments were made in response to the satirical movie on Islam. Any criticism of Islam would prove to be not for the “common good” because it might provoke violence.

The other limit Ban seeks is negative: Speech is not protected when it provokes or humiliates another person’s beliefs or values. What Ban is saying in this restriction is, basically, that free speech should no longer exist. It’s difficult to see what speech of any substance could reach this bar. Criticism of sexual beliefs would be deemed humiliating. Criticism of Muhammad or Islam would be humiliating. Ban’s idea of free speech is an offer for us all to accept the government’s great ventriloquist routine in which we just sit in the government’s lap while one voice does all the talking. The U.N. is leaning toward a ban on free speech.

The second story which has outed its discomfort with free speech is much closer to home, from the L.A. Times (ironically enough).  In this story, the author, Sarah Chayes, argues that the movie trailer may not meet the threshold for free speech because of its propensity to put people in imminent danger of violence.

Again, this is strange because, historically, when speech was considered violent and thus not free, it was speech in which someone stirred up someone else sympathetic to his cause for the expressed intention of provoking these allies to violence. When Muslims respond with violence to free speech acts, they are doing so against those who made the speech act.  In other words, the relationship is one of enemies, not of allies (see further here).

Even more insanely, the violence is typically directed toward the person(s) who made the speech act. In the case of the recent movie trailer that supposedly started the violence (but really did not), the makers of that movie are now in hiding because their lives have been threatened. So, again going back to a previous post, this ends free speech as we know it. Now, the person who speaks out is also guilty of inciting a riot—against himself!

Free Speech

Public Domain

From the standpoint of freedom, this shift in our thinking reflects the loss of free speech in any meaningful sense. More important, if this new and twisted way of understanding free speech is allowed to stand, then Christianity will effectively be outlawed. How can a Christian preach Christ exclusively without also insulting Islamic beliefs and values?

While many undoubtedly would welcome the demise of Christianity, they should also take note of the offense Muslims take against homosexuality and women’s rights. The Christians may be the first shut down, but they won’t be the last.

Update on Project 13:3


 

Just wanted to give you all an update on what is happening with Project 13:3, our new ministry devoted to understanding and responding to Christian persecution.

By the end of this week, a new website should be up and running. There are great new features on the website, such Project 13:3 christian persecutionas a locator for churches who are partnered together in the 13:3 network. These are churches which understand why Christians are persecuted, and they are trying to help spread the word about persecution.

In addition to the church network, there will be links to news, articles, videos, a podcast, and a special Twitter account which will send you an encouraging quote each day from the persecuted church, thus helping you to remember the persecuted because you are in the body.

Tons of great work is underway with Project 13:3. Visit the website (next week) and learn how to get involved.

Oh, and by the way, there will be a video posted which shows Christians being stoned in… Dearborn, Michigan, USA. Stay tuned to Project 13:3

 

Should a Muslim Girl Convert to Christ?


Should muslim girl convert Christ honor killingAs a Christian, my greatest joy in life is found in my children who believe. More than any other ambition (besides my own salvation) is my great desire for my family to follow Jesus Christ. I know I am not alone in this desire.

Yet, not every father wants his daughter to follow Jesus Christ. Just this morning, I prayed with a group of men for a young woman in Scotland. The glory of Christ is opening up to her, and now she is in danger of being killed–by her own family.  She could be the target of an honor killing.

What would you tell her if you were leading her to Christ? Would you encourage secrecy? Would you encourage boldness? Would you want to avoid the issue of her parents altogether?  What do you think you would do? Feel free to answer below.

You can get an idea of what I would do by reading my post at Project 13:3.