#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

Hate This Election? Love one another.


I have a friend who I am convinced is the smartest guy around. This past summer, he turned off the TV news. He has no Facebook, Twitter, or other social media accounts. But he does have a joyful disposition and peace in his soul—even in the midst of this excruciating election cycle. This election isn’t pretty. There is no viable candidate with integrity. None worthy of even a tepid endorsement. Christians across the country are perplexed, distressed, outraged, and disgusted. Our choice appears to be between Constantine and Diocletian.

love-one-another-simpleThe truth is, we might be more than a little distracted. Perhaps we need a fresh look at first things. We must first love God with heart, soul, mind, and strength. Second, we must love others as we love ourselves. This election is challenging our love for others in general, and our love for one another in particular. And that’s a shame.

The mark of the Christian is love for one another. “By this shall all men know that you are my disciples, that you love one another,” (John 13:35). Suffice it to say, for American Christians, love has not been the most noticeable Facebook trend. Nevertheless, we carry on. There are great victories being won around the world as the gospel goes forward, and Christians continue to love one another fervently from the heart.

I thought this might be a good time for a few examples of Christian love:

In South Sudan, Christians are living among tribes that have no written language. These Christians are helping the Toposa people learn the good news of Christ and the gospel through songs. The Toposa people are an oral culture—no books, no sermon notes, no writing tablets. But they love to sing and dance. So Christians are helping them continue their songs and dances, while introducing the good news of God’s redemption through music. Check it out here: https://www.imb.org/singing-the-gospel-how-oral-learners-encounter-truth/

Another example of Christian love comes from across the Atlantic. London, England, is a world unto itself. The city has at least 8.6 million inhabitants (that’s the official census figure, experts think the real number is much higher). Among the millions of people, there are at minimum 300 different languages spoken. Into this ethnic and cultural mix, Christians are intentionally moving in and living among the many unbelievers. London has become a magnet for ordinary Christians (not full-time missionaries) to work in their professional capacity by day, while staying focused on loving others with the good news of God’s love in the evenings and on weekends. See the full story: https://www.imb.org/london-making-disciples-in-the-capital-of-the-world/

idop-20-yearsFinally, there may be something more important than the election happening this November! Sunday, November 6th (and Sunday the 13th), the International Day of Prayer (IDOP) will celebrate its twentieth anniversary. Originally begun in 1996 by the Religious Liberty Commission of the World Evangelical Association, the International Day of Prayer is now a global movement of millions of Christians joining together in prayer for those suffering persecution. Open Doors USA, The Voice of the Martyrs, and the World Evangelical Alliance all make resources available so your church can participate in this important event to serve fellow Christians through prayer. Fulfill John 13:35 by joining with other Christians to pray for suffering saints.

Why Sit in Prison?


The Apostle Paul was once set free from prison, but he wouldn’t go. Paul did not leave from the jail which held him in Philippi until he had first asked for the magistrates to come to him in person (Acts 16:16ff.).  Why the unnecessary stay?

jail-noStudents of the New Testament recognize the Apostle Paul as a man seriously concerned with justice and righteousness. Ultimately, the righteousness of God was Paul’s motivation for life (Rom 5:20-21). Throughout the New Testament, God’s justice expects justice from men, too. So Paul conducted a bit of a “sit in” until justice was served.

In addition to suffering persecution for the cause of Christ, Paul and Silas also suffered injustice from the Roman rulers. Paul undoubtedly desired for the magistrates in Philippi to become Christians. His faithful testimony before authorities in the book of Acts proves his desire to see pagan rulers converted. More proof of Paul’s desire is found in his admonition to the Corinthians (1 Cor 9:22): I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some.

Nevertheless, Paul made a specific point to force the righting of a wrong in Philippi. Luke records the incident (Acts 16:37):

And the jailer reported these words to Paul, saying, “The magistrates have sent to let you go. Therefore come out now and go in peace.”  But Paul said to them, “They have beaten us publicly, uncondemned, men who are Roman citizens, and have thrown us into prison; and do they now throw us out secretly? No! Let them come themselves and take us out.”

The magistrates were alarmed by the report that Paul would not leave (v. 38). They showed up in person to apologize to Paul and Silas. They then asked Paul and Silas politely to leave the city—which, of course, they did, with no further incident.

Christians today may justifiably follow the pattern of Paul and call our governing authorities to account for injustice. As Christians, we sometimes will sense an obligation to hold non-believers to the standard of justice which they themselves have set. In Philippi, a Roman city, it was illegal to beat and imprison a Roman citizen without a trial. Paul and Silas called the magistrates to own their wrong actions.

The gospel was new in Philippi, and Paul was its most celebrated advocate. If he were treated as a criminal, then, perhaps, the other Christians would be viewed with suspicion. Paul was likely taking his stand (or keeping his seat in prison) for the sake of the gospel, the church, and the corporate witness of all Christians. Because of Paul’s courage and conviction, future generations of believers would have a greater likelihood of being protected by justice.

In the context of 21st century America, Christians will increasingly have occasion to point out injustice. We must think through now how and when it is right to protest wrongs committed against us. Once the apology or correction is made, we must not gloat or glory. Instead, we (like Paul and Silas) should then go about the gospel’s business:

“So they went out of the prison and visited Lydia. And when they had seen the brothers, they encouraged them and departed” (Acts 16:40).

Are Christians Persecuted in America?


Kudos to K.A. Ellis, a Ph.D. candidate at the Oxford Centre for Mission Studies. Her recent article in Christianity Today demonstrates a thoughtful and insightful response to the oft-repeated question of whether Christians in the U.S. are “really” suffering persecution.

persecution-american-flagEllis points out that Christians around the world—including those in hotspots like Syria and the Middle East—believe that Christians are being persecuted in the United States. The sub-title of her article is, “If our overseas brothers and sisters say we are, then we probably are.” The sub-title itself offers a compelling argument. Christians in the Middle East operate on the assumption that all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted (see 2 Tim. 3:12). The response of these overseas Christians demonstrates the New Testament reality that the body of Christ identifies with the suffering of other Christians (Heb. 13:1-3). On this point, Ellis concludes,

“When persecuted Christian leaders overseas warn about how seriously US Christians are marginalized, it’s time to listen.”

Ellis further points out the undeniable reality that persecution looks radically different in Nigeria, Vietnam, and China. Certainly, the degree of suffering in the US is less intense when compared to these Christians in other areas. But that fact alone is no proof of the absence of persecution in the US.

Christ taught his followers from the beginning that persecution would include mere insults:

“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, forutheirs is the kingdom of heaven.

“Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account” (Matthew 5:10-11, ESV).

Finally, Ellis argues soberly about how quickly societies can flip from tolerant to intolerant. It would be naïve to think that persecution can’t happen “in America.” Of course it can. It has. Baptists and others were persecuted in the early days of American history.  And Christians today are in the crosshairs of many cultural leaders.

Further, as I point out in my upcoming book, persecution does happen now in America, but it simply does not get reported as such (for predictable reasons). Churches are burned. Christians are shot and killed. House churches are targeted. And Christians are losing jobs… all in America. Yes, Christians in America are really being persecuted.

So, Christians ought to hear the sober conclusion Ellis reached:

“This is not a cause for despair. We may never experience what the global church faces, but it teaches us that the culture cannot despise us more than we can love its people… Our true goal is perseverance and faithfulness in showing forth the kingdom of God.”

How Do You Obey Hebrews 13:3?


Christian persecution Mosul IraqSome years ago, I had a conversation with T. W. Hunt, a well-known prayer warrior. He had come to lead a conference on prayer at our church. At the time, I was a volunteer representative for Voice of the Martyrs. When he realized my concern for the persecuted church, his eyes lit up, and he enthusiastically retorted, “I pray for the persecuted church every day.”

As we spoke further, he revealed his method for remembering to pray for the persecuted church (as we are called by Hebrews 13:3 to remember the persecuted and ill-treated because we, too, are in the body). His method was simple. Each month, he received the VOM Newsletter. Upon receiving it, he would start at the front cover and work his way to the back, praying for each person’s name mentioned in that newsletter. He would make sure that he prayed for every person mentioned in the newsletter every month.

Though I never adopted his method for remembering on a consistent basis, I did realize that we must take extraordinary steps to obey Hebrews 13:3.  It is not a natural command for us to fulfill. We do not naturally identify with the persecuted church; thus we must be commanded to remind ourselves not to forget about our suffering brothers and sisters in Christ. I have set up these reminders in many different ways over the years.

For instance, I once wore a “Pray for Sudan” arm band. I also wore a “Bound with Them” bracelet to keep prisoners on my mind. One of the most effective ways I found was to make myself as familiar with Christians in prison as I was with Greek vocabulary—so I literally made flashcards of Christians in prison and kept them on a little ring which I could carry with me and flip through, praying as I went through the names on the flashcards.

Today, I am keeping things a little simpler still. My prayers are focused on Asia Bibi because her life is, literally, in the Asia Bibi Persecution Pakistan Praybalance. In 3 weeks, a judge will decide if this wife and mother of five will live or die. She is under the sentence of death in Pakistan on account of her faith in Jesus Christ. I have changed all my social profile pics to a prayer reminder until after October 16th so that I do not fail to remember this sister in prison in her time of great need.

I’m sure there are many other ways to remind ourselves to obey Hebrews 13:3. Please feel free to share how you remember to remember the persecuted (and thus obey Hebrews 13:3). Talk about it with your friends and ask them to share. The more we hear ideas from one another, the more likely we are to “stir one another up to love and good works” like remembering those who are ill-treated on account of their faith in Christ.

Remember the prisoners, as though in prison with them, and those who are ill-treated, since you yourselves also are in the body (Hebrews 13:3, NASB).

Some Simple Ways to Pray for Asia This Week


Praise the Lord! A number of folks have changed their profile pics to the “Pray for Asia Bibi” reminder seen here. As I pointed out, that is a great way to remind ourselves and others to pray for Asia Bibi between now and October 15th. Her judge in Pakistan has said that he will delay no more, and the next meeting date is final: It is life or death.

We can help her through our prayers. Remember Paul’s words to the Corinthians. They helped him when he thought he was going to die:

Asia Bibi Persecution Pakistan PrayFor we do not want you to be unaware, brethren, of our affliction which came to us in Asia, that we were burdened excessively, beyond our strength, so that we despaired even of life; indeed, we had the sentence of death within ourselves so that we would not trust in ourselves, but in God who raises the dead; 10 who delivered us from so great a peril of death, and will deliver us, He on whom we have set our hope. And He will yet deliver us, 11 you also joining in helping us through your prayers, so that thanks may be given by many persons on our behalf for the favor bestowed on us through the prayers of many. (2 Corinthians 1:8-11)

Here are a few ways we can be praying for Asia Bibi in her current distress:

  • Pray for her faith not to fail, that God would strengthen her soul to faithful endurance.
  • Pray for her husband to trust Christ and stay fixed on Him clearly, especially in this next month.
  • Pray for her children to see Christ and the Holy Spirit at work through the faith displayed by their parents throughout this ordeal (She has 5 children).
  • Pray for her judge to have the courage to execute justice (rather than executing Asia Bibi).
  • Pray for this judge to do what is right, even though his life will then be in danger, as radicals would likely try to kill him if he allows Asia Bibi to go free.
  • Pray for those who have persecuted Asia and caused her 5 years of imprisonment, that they will be broken by the beauty of her faith and the holiness of her suffering for Christ’s sake. Pray they will be convicted of sin and converted to Christ.
  • Pray for the church in Pakistan to be strengthened through Asia’s faith, even as Paul says that the church was strengthened by seeing how God worked through his suffering.
  • Pray that the gospel would increase in Pakistan in the same way that it increased when Stephen was martyred and Paul was imprisoned.

My wife made the picture above her iPhone wallpaper so that every time she turns on her phone she gets a reminder to pray. Get creative!

I’m sure that you can think of many other ways to be praying during these last few weeks. Please feel free to share how you are praying for Asia. That will likely help all of us to pray with focus and intensity. Please continue to pray and continue to share these prayer requests with others. We have a genuine opportunity to see how the fervent, faithful prayers of the righteous can accomplish much on behalf of Asia Bibi.

Why You Should Change Your Profile Pic for the Next Month


Asia Bibi (aka Aasiya Noreen or Asia Noreen) is married, a mother of 5 children. She has not been at home with her husband or children since the summer of 2009 (what was your family like in 2009? Where were you?)

More than 5 years have passed since her family last lived together because Asia has been in prison since June 19, 2009, for defending Christ against the slanderous charges made by her Muslim coworkers. You can read the whole story here at Prisoner Alert.

Asia Bibi Persecution Pakistan PrayIn the meantime, you should change your profile pic on Facebook, Twitter, etc., to something like what I have pictured to the left for two simple reasons. First, change your profile pic so that you will be reminded to pray for Asia for the next month. This is a very important and strategic plan because in one month (October 15th) a judge has promised to declare his final verdict: Asia has been convicted in Pakistan of insulting the prophet Muhammad, and she has been sentenced to death. In one month, she may die.

Pray every day for one month. Changing your profile picture may remind you to pray for this woman and her family. Pray for the judge to set her free, but realize that he, too, would need more prayers from us, as other high-ranking officials have been murdered in Pakistan for helping Christians (see here). It will take courage for him to issue a favorable verdict for Asia. This situation appears to be in its final days, and our prayers are needed.

Second, changing your profile picture does raise awareness and it does keep an important issue floating around the internet for weeks–and weeks may be all that Asia has left! It’s easy to be cynical about “do-nothing” activism on social media. I have heard comedians mock the simplicity and easiness of thinking a tweet or post is the same as “real” activism—some call it “Slack-tivism.”

I would not worry about being mocked for being so simple. Jesus’s first followers were mocked for being unschooled fishermen. And whatever one wishes to say about “slack-tivism,” there is no doubt that social media keeps certain issues alive for weeks and months–which is why advertisers pay to publish their posts!

This wife and mother of 5 needs us to keep her situation alive for the next month so that, possibly, a judge will end up keeping her alive beyond October 15th.  In other words, this is life or death.

I will post soon a list of ways to pray for Asia Bibi over the next month.  In the meantime, why not change your profile picture (or take some other measures to keep this situation out front for the next month)? It really could mean life or death for Asia Bibi.

While praying remember Proverbs 16:9. We don’t pray in vain because

The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps.

What Happened to the 7 Missing Disciples?


In Acts 2, the Apostle Peter stood in the assembly and proclaimed Jesus Christ as Lord. Though he had organized no great event, nor had he enlisted an army of volunteers to corral the crowds, Peter saw great fruit as three thousand souls were saved and added to the church in a single day.

Discipleship Baptism PersecutionWhile we typically do not see such mass conversions, we do still see and hear stories on top of stories of sinners being saved by God’s grace. I was recently in the presence of a gifted evangelist who had many such stories to tell. Here is his story of the seven missing disciples.

Two weeks ago, my evangelist friend had the privilege of scheduling 16 baptisms in a single day—Quite a day indeed for a church that normally runs only 60 or 70 in attendance. When the day came for the baptismal celebrations, only nine of his disciples came forward. There were seven disciples missing. Why? Where were the seven missing disciples?

Cynically, we might think that they were not really disciples after all; they had, perhaps, made a profession of faith but were not willing to put forth even the effort to seek the baptismal waters as a first step of obedience to Christ’s commands. This was not the case. In fact, my evangelist friend queries his candidates thoroughly in two areas before he will agree to baptize. The first area he investigates is the nature of their profession of faith in Christ. He seeks to make sure they understand that Jesus Christ is a savior from sinners and Lord of life. Thus, obedience is not optional. The second area he examines is just how serious the profession of faith is; so he asks his candidates if they are willing to die for their faith in Christ. He says he would rather have 10 serious Christians in his congregation than a 1,000 of the half-hearted variety. So, why were 7 disciples missing?

They were forbidden by their parents to attend their own baptisms. These were high school students whose parents were not believers. Because these students were around 17 and still living at home, their parents had an authoritative command of their lives and actions. And the parents forbid these young adults from being baptized. There are two surprising conclusions to this drama.

First, the shear fact that 44% of baptismal candidates were forbidden by their parents—in America—from celebrating baptism as followers of Christ is astounding! Christ and Christianity are falling from favor in large swaths of American culture.

The second surprising aspect of this conversion saga is the response of the pastor to this unsettling situation. It really is not that surprising that the pastor told these missing disciples that they must honor their father and their mother—that after all is a biblical command from the Old Testament that is reiterated in the New (Ephesians 6 for instance). What is surprising is how thoroughly he expected their obedience to this command. My evangelist (pastor) friend explained to these would-be disciples that God has given them good parents who are willing to make difficult decisions on the basis of their own convictions. He told these wishing-to-be-baptized professors of faith that they weren’t commanded simply to obey their parents but to honor them. Thus, they must see their parents’ actions in the most honorable light—even if they all disagree as to the consequence of the parents’ decision.

Do you think he gave them good advice, based on Ephesians 6?

Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. Honor your father and mother(which is the first commandment with a promise), so that it may be well with you, and that you may live long on the earth.

How would you handle it if those you have disciple into faith cannot then be baptized because of parental prohibition? What if they will not be baptized out of fear of persecution?

What Is the Media Really Hiding from Us?


Years ago (like back in the ‘80’s), I came across a very important fellow with long hair and knickers. Francis Schaeffer, author of How Should We Then Live (and a host of other great books) proved to be prophetic in many of his warnings to the western church. One of the warnings which demonstrated Schaeffer’s prescient gift was his admonition to beware of the power of mass media.

Persecution Resources Updates newsRush Limbaugh and others have made a healthy lump of dough pointing out media bias in America’s newsrooms. Who any longer doubts the leftward inclinations of most reporters at the New York Times or CNN? What Schaeffer pointed out, however, was not simply that biased reporters beget biased reporting. He noted how biased editors, too, would mean biased narratives. In other words, the problem with media bias is not simply how news gets reported; the problem is also what news gets reported. Our real media curse is more the latter than the former. Here is what I mean.

Media bias—in the sense of catching the slant on how news stories get reported—is easy to spot in an internet world. When the U.S. embassy in Libya gets attacked, there are mainstream reporters covering it, but there are also numerous conservative websites and news sources covering it from a different perspective. One who wishes to get the most accurate story will be wise enough to read both accounts and settle the matter of bias for himself. This form of biased reporting is easily correctible with a little due diligence.

The more serious form of bias occurs when we ask questions about what stories are actually covered in the first place. For instance, consider today’s “Top Headlines” from NBC News (as reported on the NBC Today Show home page).[1] Here are some of the “top” stories:

  • An inside look at Joran van der Sloot’s prison home.
  • A story of how Tom Brokaw got an interview with Gorbachev.
  • How to protect your cloud backup storage (so old photos of you in the nude don’t end up all over the internet as they allegedly have with Jennifer Lawrence and Kate Upton).
  • The U. S. targets an air strike against the terrorist who carried out the Kenya mall attack.

There are even more stories further down the page—such as a celebration of two men finally able to marry one another in Minnesota.

But what stories are NOT mentioned here? Let’s name a few headlines the news editors might have missed:Christian persecution Mosul Iraq

Many more stories could be added to the list. The point is that we can’t assume that “News” is what the news people say it is. All news is filtered news. What is the filter that determines which news gets through? For us, it must be Christ, who is the fullness of Him who fills all in all. All things are from Christ and for Christ—even the news. Perhaps it’s okay—or at least understandable—that mainstream reporters and editors would forsake the suffering of Christians, but Christ has promised that He never will. Because we are His flock, we must not forsake our brothers and sisters either in their time of greatest earthly need.

[1] Accessed September 2, 2014: http://www.today.com/

Why the Mark Driscoll Deal Is Not a Big Deal


As we crowded into the square area designated as the living room, our group of Christian believers talked mostly of our families and of news and events in the Christian world. This was a reunion of sorts, as the people gathered here had not been together in one place for more than a year. It was, in so many ways, a sweet remembrance of shared lives.

Persecution big deal for ChristiansThe conversation only enhanced the sweetness of the hour, but the conversation wasn’t always sweet. The route the conversation took back to sweetness traversed a crooked trail. Our first conversation centered on the trending events of social media. Immediately, we discussed Mark Driscoll and Acts 29. Why? Because that is what everyone in the evangelical world was talking about.

One of the young women in the room had been stuck unexpectedly in an office with nothing to do, so she had spent the day before reading all the articles related to the Driscoll “controversy.” She reported that the controversy did not seem as major as Tweets and Facebook posts made it sound. Another young woman agreed and particularly lamented the lack of detail that accompanied most of the articles she had read. She mentioned a particular article from a Christian magazine which linked to accusations and commentary, but did not link to the actual statements from Acts 29.

The more we talked, the more realized that we were talking about very little. In fact, the group agreed unanimously that we, too, had become guilty of tabloid Christianity. We fell prey to the titillation of scandal. One of our “stars” was falling. Speculations of the fallout were morbidly thrilling to our minds. Then we came to our senses. We realized that Mark Driscoll—even in this current flurry of news—is not a big deal.

Our attention turned at that point to some of the stories in Christianity which are—or should be—really big deals:Christian persecution Mosul Iraq

Men, women, and children are being beheaded on sight if ISIS believes they are Christian.

In Nigeria, more than 2,000 women have become widows because their husbands loved Jesus Christ unto death.

One Somali Christian couple fled persecution and oppression in their homeland. They ended up in a refugee center in Kenya, where they were found by Islamists who shot them several times, leaving them for dead.

More than 1,500 Christians have been slaughtered mercilessly in Homs (Syria).

All over the world, Christians are persecuted severely.

As our little fellowship scanned the Christian world scene, we concluded that the stories which fill our Twitter feeds and satisfy our need for a social buzz are not necessarily the same stories that deeply burden heaven. The saints around the throne, we are told, cry day and night, “How long, O, Lord!,” in an urgent expectation of Jesus returning to avenge the blood of his saints.

So, if we take our cue from the New Testament, we will remember to join heaven both in our rejoicing when sinners repent (Luke 15:10) and in our crying for justice when saints are oppressed (Revelation 6:10) . With all due respect to Mark Driscoll and other stars who stumble, we have much bigger issues to occupy our time and our Twitter feeds. Let us pray for our leaders when they are leading and when they are stumbling. Let us pray for the ones whose stories briefly capture our imagination. But, by all means, let us remember our brothers and sisters who are ill-treated since we ourselves are in the body.

Who Is Persecuting Palestinian Christians?


No one needs to ponder whether Christians in Palestinian territories are suffering terribly. They are. Who’s to blame?

Christian persecution middle eastThere are very strong voices in the media and in political circles who point out that Israel is the country doing all the killing. Sure, Hamas is firing hundreds of missiles into Israel, but they don’t end up killing anyone because of Israel’s advanced “Iron Dome” defense systems.  Meanwhile, Israel’s rockets do reach their targets, and, so, more than 100 Palestinians have been killed in recent fighting. Palestine has been an area of Christian influence for centuries. And Israel has been an unwelcome occupier of the land since 1948. Protected by her western allies, Israel is responsible for exerting its disproportionate force in such a way that Christians in Palestine are the ones who end up suffering.

Against this view, there are those who argue that Israel has done no wrong. They point out that Hamas—a known Islamic terrorist organization—has been in control of Palestine since 2007.  In the last decade more than 4,000 rockets have been fired into Israel from Gaza.  The rockets are fired by Hamas, Al Quds, and others, who launch the rockets from hospitals, elementary schools, and apartment buildings in order to prevent Israel from fighting back.  If Israel were to fight back, she would inevitably kill civilians, which would then create “martyrs” for media manipulation.  The entire affair is as cynical as it is sordid.

What if—instead of being sucked into the bi-polar, geo-political warfare being waged from both sides—what if we could hear directly from Palestinian Christians? Maybe we can. They have been speaking out for the past couple of years.  From a 2012 Gatestone Institute report,

In a rare public protest, leaders and members of the 2,000-strong Christian community in the Gaza Strip staged a sit-in strike in the Gaza Strip this week to condemn the abductions and forced conversions in particular, and persecution at the hands of radical Muslims in general.

Most of us are not experts on the political machinations of the Middle East. We rely on news reports, testimonies, and research we hope we can trust. And we must do our best to make sense of a situation that always seems to inflame passions more than light the way of truth. It isn’t easy. But here’s a thought.

Given the fact that these Christians are living in Hamas-controlled Palestinian territories, they would be applauded by their government and by the sentiments of the general population if they blamed Israel. Blaming Israel would be the most natural, most agreeable, and most simple statement for them to make.  But they have been doing the opposite. They have been protesting the treatment they are receiving at the hands of Hamas and their own leaders.  They have been saying that their people are being kidnapped and forced to convert to Islam. And they have said this publicly at their own risk:

The protest has further aggravated tensions between Muslims and Christians in the Gaza Strip, which has been under the control of Hamas since 2007.

Leaders and members of the Christian community now fear reprisal attacks by Muslim extremists. Some have appealed to the Vatican and Christian groups and churches in the US, Canada and Europe for help. 

It seems to me that it would take much more courage for them to speak against their own Muslim (Hamas/PA) leaders than it would for them to Israel Flag God Favor Israel Ethnic National Christspeak out against Israel. Thus, I tend to believe that Palestinian Christians are in fact being persecuted by and, consequently, have been suffering at the hands of Hamas and other Muslim radicals in Gaza.

I’m not saying that Israel is always right. I don’t believe that. I don’t even believe that the land and geopolitical entity we now call Israel is particularly favored by God (as I have explained here).  There is no doubt that Israel’s wartime mentality is creating a terrible hardship for many, even if Israel has taken the unprecedented step of announcing ahead of time where and when she will strike. (See here for particular stories with varying degrees of blame toward Israel).

What I am saying, however, is that Palestinian Christians have been persecuted by the Hamas-led Palestinian authority. And at least some Palestinian Christians have been trying to speak up about it.  They feel that the media are punching the mute button toward their voice-boxes because their complaints don’t fit the typical political script.

At the end of the matter, of course, it does not matter who is to blame as much as what will we do? Will we help them with our prayers (1 Cor 1:8-11)?  Above all, let us pray that Christ Himself would be their strength, their hope, and their refuge through this awful storm in which they seem to have lost all their earthly allies.

For Krauthammer’s take on current Israel-Palestine crisis:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/charles-krauthammer-moral-clarity-in-gaza/2014/07/17/0adabe0c-0de4-11e4-8c9a-923ecc0c7d23_story.html

 

 

 

Here’s a Great Test for True Religion


Our van was nothing fancy.  No one would have mistaken it for a limousine. It was plain, boxy, kind of like a Volkswagen cargo van in which someone bolted a couple of seats to the floor. Nothing about the van stood out in the bustling African streets of Addis Ababa. Like everyone else in town that day, we darted and beeped and chugged along through the crowded automotive corridor, windows down, taking our oxygen from air saturated with a mix of dust and exhaust fumes.

Ethiopia Widow True Religion Cochran blogAs inconspicuous as our vehicle was in the city traffic, our faces were not so unnoticed. Our skin was noticeably pale compared to the native melanin. Immediately upon entering the market area our van became a gathering spot for kids selling toothbrushes, kids shining shoes, and kids selling packs of chewing gum. But worse than the badgering of the ambitious children trying to make a living was the agonizing appearance of destitute women, widows we were told.

In Ethiopia (and in many other places in Africa), there is little provision for widows. In the market place, haggard ladies wearing mismatched patches of dirty material draped over their malnourished figures tap incessantly on the van windows before we’ve even parked. Through the obstacles of a language barrier, they somehow communicate very clearly that they are starving and want money for food. They know we have money because we are, after all, going shopping at the market.

How could we not help these women? They were widows. And what is pure and undefiled religion if it isn’t helping widows in need?

James 1:27 says, “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world” (ESV).

In Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, we had the opportunity to visit widows in their affliction with help that was sorely needed.

In Nigeria, an African nation just three countries to the left (west) of Ethiopia, widows also cry out in the name of pure and undefiled religion. But in Nigeria the pure religion being sought lately is not the care of widows and orphans. Instead, the pursuit for pure religion has become the occasion for turning these women into widows.

The pure religion being sought in Nigeria is not that which is mentioned in the New Testament book of James; rather, it is the pure religion of Islam—according to the terrorist group Boko Haram.  And the widows are crying out not simply because their husbands are dead, but because their husbands were murdered in Boko Haram’s effort to purify Islam by ridding the country of its Christians.

According to this report, more than 2,000 women have unexpectedly become widows as the result of their husbands being murdered by Boko Haram’s quest for Islamic purity in Nigeria.  These women are destitute.  They have children to feed but no means of providing them the basics of food and shelter.

Here–in this Nigerian nightmare–we have a true test of pure religion. On the one hand, Boko Haram in the name of Islam believes that Christian men should be killed, leaving in the flow of bloodshed a wake of widows and orphans–hoping eventually for a purely Islamic Nigeria. On the other hand, Christians have a clear statement from James 1:27 that pure and undefiled religion does not result from killing opposing ideologies. Instead, pure and undefiled religion is on display when we help these widows and orphans pick up the pieces of their broken lives—somehow helping them reassemble the shattered mess of their lost hopes, dreams, comforts, and expectations.

In the case of Nigeria in particular, Christians have the duty to act. It’s easy to see a widow’s need when we are forced to look into her hungry eyes. It’s harderPure Religion James 1 Widow Orphan Cochran blog when the widow lives an ocean away.  And yet, our Christian sisters in Nigeria represent the actual intent of James’s admonition.  In the New Testament, the first responsibility for widow and orphan care exists within one’s own family (1 Tim 5:4, 8).  When the family cannot provide, the church must—starting with widows and orphans within the body of Christ.  For James, the pure and undefiled religion of caring for widows and orphans would begin with the church taking care of Christian widows and orphans (for more, see here or here).  James has been addressing his readers as “brothers” throughout the letter, signaling that this is from a Christian brother to other Christians.

Furthermore, James spells out that his talking of the poor means primarily poor brothers and sisters in the faith (2:15).  He is constantly speaking throughout the letter to brothers and sisters about righteousness and faithful works.  Like any believer in the first century, James thought in terms of a covenant community. The church was like family, and who could allow orphans and widows in his own family to starve? No one could if they understood God’s nature. Just listen to Exodus 22:22ff.,

“You shall not mistreat any widow or fatherless child. If you do mistreat them, and they cry out to me, I will surely hear their cry, and my wrath will burn, and I will kill you with the sword, and your wives shall become widows and your children fatherless.”

How awfully dreadful is the state of those who oppress widows and orphans! I have no doubt that those who murder Christian men in their zeal for a purified religion are under the weight of the wrath of God almighty for causing children to be fatherless and wives to be destitute.

But what about us? Do we not have an opportunity—even an obligation—in the face of this wrongful attempt to purify religion by killing Christians to actually demonstrate the pure and undefiled religion God requires? It’s time for us to come to the aid of Nigerian widows in distress. How pure is our religion? The African widows know.

 

This Simple Prayer Request May Be the Best Request of the Year!


There is no spiritual equivalent to the Academy Awards. Could you imagine a gala event in Nashville where Billy Bob Johnson from Plano, TX, wins this year’s Golden Bible for “Best Supporting Evangelist”?  John MacArthur and Mark Driscoll could slug it out for “Best Argument over Spiritual Gifting.” Admittedly, the concept is mildly grotesque.

Christians North Korea PersecutionBut if there were an award for “Best Prayer Request of 2014,” I would nominate the following:

“Pray with us.”

Doesn’t sound like much, does it? But consider the origin of this request. It comes from a Christian living in North Korea. Many have called North Korea the worst place in the world to be a Christian. You might remember back in March 33 Christians were scheduled for execution on account of their work in the underground church.

Yet Eric Foley, a missions strategist intimately acquainted with Christians in North Korea, makes a strong case against thinking of North Korea as the worst place to be a Christian. Foley says,

“I think that if people say the ‘worst’ and mean the costliest, then that’s an accurate statement. I’ve never met a casual Christian in North Korea! But if we mean that it’s a place where God’s power is least evident, or where Christians feel the most forsaken, then North Korean Christians would deny that adamantly,” he explains.

“North Koreans insist that they receive everything they need from God in order to be faithful. So they say: ‘Don’t pray for us, pray with us. God will find us faith where he calls us, and he will provide’…”

There it is! Believers in North Korea—where if caught they will be sent to a concentration camp or killed—do not feel defeated. They do not want us to pray for them, as though they are needy. They want us to pray with them—for the gospel to triumph in North Korea! What a difference a little preposition makes!

A simple preposition makes this prayer request one of the most profound I’ve ever heard. It shatters complacency. It kills any hint of defeat—or even retreat! It says the gospel is alive in North Korea. It bids us join with our prayers for the victory that one day will come. Won’t you join the fight and pray for our brothers and sisters in North Korea?  Don’t you think this simple prayer request demonstrates the Spirit and power of Christ?

 

 Christians in the Worst Prisons

Persecution Terribly Real in North Korea

North Korea NOT the Worst Place to Be a Christian?

 

5 Reasons to Pray for the Persecuted Church


I have a close brother in the ministry who sent a text to me last night asking me to pray for him as he ministered to a family in need. Another brother needs me to pray for his daughter who is recovering from a complicated surgery. Yet another friend needs prayer because she is struggling with forgiving someone.

Greg Cochran Prayer for Persecuted ChristiansI, too, am struggling with discipline, devotion, and evangelism. I, too, need prayer. What Christian doesn’t need prayer, right? Have you ever asked someone to pray for you? Did you mean it? Do you really think it matters?  Of course, you do. You know that you are often sustained by the prayers of the saints lifting your cause before God’s throne of grace.

We all wish others would pray for us. Therefore, prayer for others—maybe especially for the persecuted church—falls under the rubric of Christ’s “Golden Rule” found in Matthew 7:12, “In everything, therefore, treat people in the same way you want them to treat you, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” Do you want or need folks praying for you? Pray for them, especially for those suffering the greatest needs.

Second, the Bible almost commands us to pray for the persecuted. I know that’s weird to say, but there is no direct command which says, “Pray for the persecuted church.” I think that’s because the Spirit makes it so obvious that we don’t really need to be commanded to do it. What Christian would think there is no need to pray for those Christians whose home has been destroyed and whose lives are in constant danger (as is currently the case in Iraq)?

Even if there is no direct imperative to pray, there are several commands in Scripture which point to that end. Paul commands the church at Thessalonica to pray for him and his team so that they will speak effectively and be rescued from the evil of their persecutors (2 Thess. 3:1-2).  If Paul needed Christians to pray that he might be faithful through persecution, then, perhaps, Christians suffering persecution today need prayer, too.

In addition, Christians are told to pray concerning their own experiences of suffering (see Matthew 24:20, for instance). And Christians are commanded to pray for those who are persecuting Christians. It seems to me that such a command argues that we ought to pray not only for the persecuted, but also for the persecutor.

Third, there are biblical examples of prayers being effective on behalf of the persecuted. One great example concerns the Apostle Paul. In 2 Corinthians 1:8-11, Paul tells of a desperate situation he suffered while in Asia. The situation was so bad, he says, that “he despaired even of life itself.”

And yet, he was miraculously and powerfully delivered from what seemed to him certain death. How was he delivered? Ultimately, he says, he was delivered by God, who raises the dead. Yet he also commends the church for the role she played in his rescue: “you also joining in helping us through your prayers.” We can conclude that the prayers of the righteous are effective for delivering needy brothers and sisters from desperate situations of persecution. The church helped Paul survive his suffering in Asia. And the church can help those suffering today through faithful prayers.

Fourth, praying for other brothers and sisters in their times of suffering helps Christians to obey the command of Hebrews 13:3. While not a direct command to pray for the persecuted, Hebrews 13:3—the command to remember the persecuted—surely includes prayer. Indeed, it is a more broad command than simply praying. Remember Christians in prison, as though in prison with them. Remember those suffering ill treatment on account of Christ. Yet surely such remembering includes praying for the persecuted.

Finally, our praying for suffering Christians reflects the love of Christ Himself for the church.  Christ stood to receive Stephen, the first martyr after him (see Acts 7). He is as concerned for the suffering church as a groom is concerned for the appearance of his bride (Ephesians 5). What if wedding congregants were to spit upon the bride, curse at her, kick her, and beat her while she made her way down the aisle? Would the groom not erupt in violent anger?

So it is with Christ. He is working to make His bride ready for the final consummation. According to Ephesians 5, Christ is working to make His bride—the church—spotless and blameless, to present her to the Father in all her splendor. This means, of course, that those who persecute the church are persecuting Christ’s bride and body. It is impossible for Christ to be more intimately linked to others than He is with His church.

There is no question that Christ lives to make intercession for His church. Thus, when we intercede on behalf of our suffering brothers and sisters, we imitate Christ. We can believe it is the Spirit of Christ who so compels us to pray for the persecuted.

Why Pray at All? (Awesome Privilege of Prayer)

A Simple Morning Prayer for You

Should We Pray for Satan?

Pray for the Persecuted and the Persecutor

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 

3 Simple Ways to Stand for Religious Liberty without Falling for a Political Agenda


In my previous post, I sought to show why it is important for Christians to fight for religious liberty. What are some simple ways Christians can do this without selling out to a political agenda? I thought of 3 simple ways to get the conversation going:

  1. Religious Freedom in America

    Wikimedia Commons

    Learn. Disciples are learners. Primarily, this learning must be focused on learning obedience to Jesus Christ (Matthew 28:18-20). But Christians have an obligation to be good citizens as well (Romans 13; 1 Timothy 2:2, etc). We must learn first what belongs to Caesar and what belongs to God in order then to obey Christ’s command to render unto Caesar that which is his (Matthew 22:21).

    1. One good way to learn is by studying Baptist history. For all our faults, the one truth we Baptists have supported well is religious liberty. Baptists such as the Danbury Baptist Association, John Leland, and Roger Williams, significantly shaped America.
    2. A simple way to learn about religious liberty is to pay attention to the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, now headed by Russell Moore. Dr. Moore is gifted and persuasive, and the ERLC is very good at keeping churches and Christians informed about issues of importance. For example, here is a helpful brochure.
  2. Engage. Speak to your friends, family members, and colleagues about the issues which you are studying. Do not be combative or arrogant. Be genuinely concerned and seek the most Christ-exalting, truth-honoring, love-producing position available on issues which the rest of the world invariably must strangle into a political ideology. Denny Burk provides us with this example concerning how to love your trans-gender neighbor.
  3. Bear Witness. Bearing gospel witness is more than throwing out a tract and calling for repentance. Gospel witness is never less than speaking the truth of the gospel for the good of those to hear, but the biblical vision of gospel witness is even more.
    1. According to the Bible, all of life is witness. Jesus, in giving instruction for His followers to become the world’s disciple-makers, told them first, “You are witnesses…” (Luke 24:48).  The same is true of Christ’s followers being “salt” and “light.” This is what we are as much as it is what we do. So we must bear witness by always walking in a manner worthy of the gospel, in truth and love.
    2. Collectively, the church can then become a witness, too. John says that the world will know that we are Christ’s followers by the way we love one another. Be a faithful church member. Share Christ in fellowship with one another as a gospel community. Invite others into that community. Share Christ with those you meet who are trapped by sin’s delusion and bondage. Others do not represent our political enemy. They represent all of us who once were thieves, fornicators, adulterers, drunkards, or homosexuals, but we were washed with the water of the Word (1 Cor 6).
    3. See this moving testimony for a way to witness to the “outside” world of unbelievers.

In other words, now is not the time to retreat from society into our Christian enclaves. This is also not the time for Christians to disengage from issues because of not wanting to be owned by a political party. As laudable as it may be to avoid political trappings, such a decision to disengage on controversial issues may simply be nothing more than cowardice, hoping to avoid controversy and persecution by remaining silent where the battle rages. It’s not as though the Bible is silent on issues of sexual morality. We may need a little shot of Jesus to awaken us from our wishful slumber: Whoever is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels (Luke 9).

Or, we might be encouraged by this quote, typically assigned to Martin Luther:[1]

“If I profess, with the loudest voice and the clearest exposition, every portion of the truth of God except precisely that little point which the world and the devil are at that moment attacking, I am not confessing Christ, however boldly I may be professing Christianity. Where the battle rages the loyalty of the soldier is proved; and to be steady on all the battle-field besides is mere flight and disgrace to him if he flinches at that one point.”

May the Lord grant that we Christians in the USA will not fail to uphold justice and liberty. Our greatest desire may well be that the world would know Christ, the ultimate truth who sets us free, but we should also not forget that as Christians we live in a nation that prides itself on liberty and justice for all. Let us hold our neighbors accountable to God and each other by promoting liberty.

Religious Liberty Important for All Americans

Why Christians Should fight for Religious Liberty

Should Pastors Preach Political Messages?

 

[1] Quote usually ascribed to Luther. But the exact quote is not found in his original writings. The quote, perhaps, originates from a 19th century novel. See this article for more.

Why Christians Must Fight for Religious Liberty in America


Freedom, though given freely by God, isn’t offered freely by Man. It must be fought for and won, sometimes through reasoned debate and cool persuasion, other times through battles with swords or guns. Tyranny is always lurking, scheming to usurp individual liberty. This is as true in America as it is anywhere.

Religious Liberty Persecution America FreedomI am thankful therefore for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention. The ERLC understands freedom. Recently, the ERLC hosted a panel discussion on the Hobby Lobby case and what it means for all Americans. The entire transcript is worth reviewing, but there are two points in particular that I hope you will ponder.

First, ERLC President Russell Moore explains that many people of faith seem to miss that religious liberty IS a gospel issue. Moore—provocatively and persuasively—demonstrates why Christians must oppose persecution and a loss of liberty in America:

So a lot of people assume well, we are standing in the place of Jesus, standing before [Pilate], who cares whether or not we have our rights and our liberties taken away? Jesus went as a sheep to the slaughter and so should we. What people aren’t recognizing there is that they are not only standing in the place of Jesus, they are also standing in the place of [Pilate] because the scripture says, Romans 13, “the God holds Caesar accountable for the use of the sword.” In a Democratic Republic, that means ultimately the people are held accountable so the question is not just are we going to be persecuted? The question is are we going to be persecutors? So if we shrug this off, what we are doing is consigning future generations and we are consigning people’s consciences to a tyranny that we are going to be held accountable for. 

I have spoken to many Christians, young and old, who think that we should go like sheep through the tyrannical slaughter of our religious liberties. But it seems a bit irresponsible and unloving toward our own children, grandchildren, and future generations of the church. As I’ve pointed out before, when we as Americans give up the fight, the situation gets worse for believers all over the world. We may indeed be living through the end of our religious liberty, but let us at least not go down without a fight—for the sake of our spiritual progeny who will suffer more dramatically the ill effects of such loss.

The second significant point in the transcript comes from Saddleback pastor Rick Warren. Pastor Rick clearly and eloquently lays out the case for why religious liberty is the foundation of all other liberty:

The first amendment, religious freedom is called America’s first freedom for intentional reasons. The first phrase of the first sentence of the first amendment of the Constitution is freedom of religion. In our constitution, freedom of religion comes before freedom of the press. It comes before freedom of speech. It comes before freedom to assemble. It comes before the right to bear arms. Why? Because if I don’t have the freedom to believe and practice my beliefs, I don’t need the freedom of press. If I don’t have the freedom of conscience to live as I believe God is telling me to live, then I don’t need freedom to assemble. If I don’t have the freedom to think and believe and act on those beliefs, I don’t need freedom of speech or freedom of the press or even any of these other freedoms. This is America’s first freedom because it is fundamental.

As I said, the entire transcript is worth reading. These two points, I think, nail our present situation and identify clearly for us why it is so important that we not abrogate our responsibility to speak up, to preach, to pray, and to serve the church and the world with healthy doses of Christian love.

America, and thus the rest of the world, losing freedom:

Some of the people Obamacare hurts

Another example of a loss of liberty

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:

Why Persecution Is a Social Justice Priority


Persecution Social JusticeBrooke Parks at Persecutionblog asks an excellent question: Is Christian Persecution a Social Justice Issue? I believe that it is. At least, I believe that persecution is a justice issue. Parks is correct to note the limits of social justice. Parks points out that the goal of ministry to the persecuted is not to remove inequality. The goal is not simply to make the persecution go away. The goal, according to Parks, is “for the church to be the body of Christ to them and with them.” I completely agree. From the New Testament perspective, “Being the body of Christ to them and with them” is primarily an action of justice.  Caring for the persecuted is a fundamental expression of biblical justice. Perhaps the term “social” can be abandoned, but the idea of justice cannot. And here is why.

In the Old Testament, God Himself proved to be the one who would always “execute justice” and “love” the strangers and aliens among Israel (Deuteronomy 10). The revelation of God as the source of justice and love was supposed to govern Israel. Israel was expected to be like God, executing justice in her own midst, making sure that the poor, the orphans, the widows, and the powerless were not forgotten.  In addition, Israel was supposed to show love to those who came into her midst from the nations around. In this way, Israel, like God, was supposed to model justice and love.

When the time came for Israel to adopt a king, the Lord gave specific instructions for the king: (1) That the king should first read, study, meditate upon, and obey carefully God’s law (Deut 17:18-20); (2) Then, second, that the king would execute justice and righteousness. This function of the king was on splendid display when the Queen of Sheba came to call upon Solomon. She proclaimed,

because the LORD loved Israel forever, therefore He made you king, to do justice and righteousness.” (1 Kings 10:9)

According to God, the king’s task was first to be just and, next, to execute laws of justice and righteousness for all of Israel.

When Christ came to establish His kingdom, He did so in righteousness. Christ was, of course, just. As He announced to John the Baptist, Christ also fulfilled all righteousness (Matthew 3:15).  Christ would later explain that basic discipleship—that is, a basic knowledge of what it means to follow Him—includes learning to be obedient to all His commands (Matthew 28:18-20, commonly called the Great Commission). Being obedient to Christ’s commands is essentially putting God’s justice and righteousness into action.

Christ came as a righteous king to establish God’s righteous kingdom. Consequently, Christ taught His followers that they must pursue righteousnessRighteousness Persecution and the kingdom as matters of first importance (Matthew 6:33).  Christ also taught His followers that their pursuit of justice/righteousness would lead them to be persecuted (see Matthew 5:10-12).

What all of this means is that to live the Christian life is to display God’s justice. Such a display will provoke persecution now just as it did when Christ and the Apostles ministered on earth. When Christ’s followers suffer persecution, they do so on account of righteousness (justice). They suffer for doing what is right in His name. It is His authority and His presence in His people which provokes the persecution.

So, in the New Testament, the first priority for social justice—that is, for feeding the poor, caring for widows, providing for orphans, and showing mercy to prisoners—is to minister to the persecuted and oppressed church. To use a common metaphor applied to the people of God in the New Testament, the first priority is to care for one’s own family—the family of God.

The idea of family first is evident in Paul’s instructions to Timothy regarding the care of widows:

But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.

Christians are to do good to all people, but, especially, we are to do good to those who are of the household of faith, according to the Apostle Paul (Galatians 6:10). Not surprisingly, the New Testament is replete with examples of Christians doing good for fellow saints who are suffering.

Most references in the New Testament concerning feeding the poor actually understand the poor to be persecuted and suffering Christians. The offering Paul took from the churches was collected to care for needy, suffering saints in Jerusalem (see 1 Cor 16:1-4, Rom. 15:25). Paul Himself was partly responsible for the persecution which put these saints in such a needy state (see Acts 9:1-13). Little wonder, then, that after his conversion he felt responsible for their care.

When Paul went before Peter, James, and John to validate his commission to preach to the Gentiles, they gave him the right hand of fellowship and encouraged him to continue caring for the poor believers as he had been doing in Jerusalem (see Galatians 2:1-10).[1] Likewise, the admonitions in the book of James concerning the poor also are references to the brother or sister among you, that is, to the poor and needy Christians.

Further, the care of widows and orphans—which is called by James a “pure and undefiled religion”—is care for widows and orphans in the household of faith. These issues—typically called issues of social justice—are primarily issues of Christians acting rightly toward fellow brothers and sisters of the faith. They are issues of justice within the household of faith.

When the New Testament speaks of visiting prisoners, it means that Christians are responsible to remember (Hebrews 13:3) and care for fellow Christians who have been thrown into prison on account of Christ (cf. Hebrews 10:34). In fact, Peter made sure the early church held to an important distinction in categorizing imprisonment:

Make sure that none of you suffers as a murderer, or thief, or evildoer, or a troublesome meddler; but if anyone suffers as a Christian, he is not to be ashamed, but is to glorify God in this name (1 Peter 4:15-16; cf. 1 Peter 3:17).

John love persecutionIn the New Testament, issues of justice begin with the household of faith. As the household of faith learns to love one another rightly and, thus, executes the justice of God rightly so that God’s righteousness is on display, the world begins to see what justice and love actually are like. The whole world begins to know that Jesus Christ is present because of the way the Church loves one another (John 13:35). In this way, the Church witnesses to the world of Christ’s love.

So, it is important that the church exercises “justice” in caring for the poor and suffering Christians. In this way, ministry to the persecuted is the first order of “social justice” business. Our love for one another is crucial to our witness before the watching world.

Brooke Parks’ question has to be answered affirmatively: “Yes!” Persecution ministry is the foremost and primary act of social justice. Parks answered the question negatively, but only with regard to the non-biblical idea that justice concerns equality. Parks is correct to say that the goal of persecution ministry is not to bring society back into some arbitrary notion of balance or equity.  Rather, the goal of persecution ministry is to display the righteousness of God in the face of world’s unrighteous desire to be rid of Christ by executing His people.

See also:

http://www.heritage.org/research/commentary/2014/5/christian-persecution-an-injustice-for-all

 

[1] For fuller discussion, see Thomas Schreiner, Galatians, in the Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, published by Zondervan.

The Real Life Narrow Way Pictured


I’ve been off the grid for a bit, partly because of spending a week at the NorCal Pastor’s Retreat. This retreat, by design, was retreat from everything resembling a normal, daily routine, including cell phones, text messages, internet service, television, indoor plumbing, private bathrooms, etc.

For me, the retreat also served as a kind of metaphor for the Christian faith. On the drive in to this mountainous area of northern California, I was struck by how precisely the drive mirrored the Christian’s pilgrimage through life.

Jesus Christian Life narrow way persecution pastorsThe driving portion of the trip began with a very crowded arrival at San Francisco International Airport. I proceeded from there to a crowded train which took me to a very crowded rental car area. Apparently, a large number of folks desire to fly into San Francisco. (Are there tourist attractions or something?)

Not only are there a great many folks visiting San Francisco, but there are also tons of people living there. So, I drove north toward the mountains on a crowded U.S. 101.  The further north I drove, the less crowded the roads became. Still, U.S. 101 is a freeway in California. Therefore, it was still crowded with residents and visitors heading into and out of the beautiful wine country of Marin, Sonoma, and Mendocino counties.

Once I left the freeway, however, the crowds diminished severely. The road from U.S. 101 to Potter Valley, CA, is as unpopulated as, say, the road from Dry Prong to Tioga in the rural center of Louisiana. As it turns out, not all of California is crowded. Anyway, leaving the freeway focused more sharply the lesson this trip offered for Christian living.

First, the retreat was accessible only to the determined. It was not located in a place which one might “happen” to see. A sign at the last intersection before heading up the hill made the point plain: “No Outlet.” As Christ taught is disciples that the kingdom life is one in which both hands would be fixed to a plow looking forward (Lk 9:62), so, too, this sign made clear that one need not hope to simply wander through or pass by this retreat setting. There was no way out.

Those who say they “tried Christianity, but it didn’t work,” prove only that they were never on the kingdom way. They prove, as John says, that they went out from us because they were not of us (1 Jn 2:19). Maybe in our discipleship, we ought to tell would-be Christians that the road begins with a sign that says, “No Outlet.” One is either “in Christ” and “on the way,” or he is not.

Second, as the road continued further toward its end at our retreat setting, another sign appeared. This time, the sign had an even more Jesus Christian life narrow way pastors persecution preachingunmistakable Christian message: “Road Narrows.” That sounds a lot like Jesus Himself:

13 “Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. 14 For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it.

The beginning of the journey in the sought-after Bay area of San Francisco ended in this remote, desolate wilderness with no one around. The road was already small and unoccupied, and, yet, it was still getting smaller, and more narrow, and less traveled. Christians need not wonder that they often feel alone. They are on the narrow way of life. As the road narrows, the crowds shrink.

Finally, the road itself not only narrowed but became rough and more difficult to traverse. There were potholes and washouts along the shoulders. Eventually, the patchy asphalt gave way to gravel and dirt. By the end of the journey, the road simply disintegrated into the retreat setting, a quaint, rustic Bible camp complete with outhouses and dinner bells to ring in campers three times a day for a hearty meal.

The illustration here is obvious. There are times when Christians mingle with the masses and live in the world. Yet, the more prevailing reality for Christian living is that—even when we are in the world, we are not of it. We are always on the narrow way that leads to life. Our life is promised to be (1) one way, from earth to the heavenly presence of Christ; (2) more narrow—and thus often more lonely—than the way most in the world travel through their time on earth; and (3) often difficult. As Paul told the Christians in Antioch (Acts 14:22),

Jesus Christian life narrow way pastors persecution preachingthrough many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.

Persecution for Every Christian: Why it is important to identify with the persecuted church


I seem to have a recurring disagreement with fellow Christians. I don’t like disagreements. I try to avoid them, but, when it comes to the persecuted church, I keep having them.

All Christians Face Persecution The conversation typically goes something like this: We are engaged in talking about some current event related to Christian persecution. The brother or sister in Christ then says, “they have it so bad over there. It really costs them to be a Christian.” –Which of course is true.

Then I usually say, well, we are all persecuted if we follow Christ. We share the same kind of persecution—even if it is not to the same degree. That line—we share the same kind of persecution—usually provokes an almost hostile response, and I am not sure why (feel free to explain below). Rather than attempting to probe deeply into the spiritual psyche of those who revile my position, I think I’d rather lay out 5 reasons it is important to understand persecution as something which impacts all Christians–including American Christians.

First, the plain teaching of Jesus and the New Testament favors (a) calling all persecution by the same name, and (b) expects all Christians to suffer it. In other words, the New Testament promises that everyone who desires to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted. Granted, this little promise does not make its way into the “The Book of Bible Promises” available at your local Wal-Mart, but it is clearly stated in 2 Timothy 3:12:

Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived.

Christians in the New Testament are promised persecution. Jesus explains the reason for this persecution in Matthew 5:10-12. Basically, the persecution happens because Christ is present with His people (“on account of me” in Matthew 5:11). Just as the world hated Christ then, the world will hate him (via his people) even now (see also John 15). Whether the persecution is imprisonment (as in Acts 5) or being falsely accused (Matthew 5) or being mocked (Acts 17) or being executed by the sword (Acts 12)—in each instance, there is Christian persecution—a hostile, retaliatory action against the presence of Christ. Both Jesus and the New Testament make this point clearly.

Second, those who wish to make a distinction between torture and name-calling are correct in so doing with regard to the severity of the crime. Who could doubt that it is worse to be lacerated with an electrical cable than to be laughed at during a family meal? Nevertheless, as was just pointed out above, the difference is in degree of persecution–not in whether or not persecution was suffered.

Many, hoping to maintain the distance between “real” persecution and the “light” afflictions we suffer in America, sadly end up injecting an artificial distance between Christians in America and Christians in the rest of the world. The priestly prayer of Jesus in John 17 works against such a bifurcation within the body of Christ. It is our Lord’s desire for us to be one—even as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are one.

In trying to maintain the distance between the suffering of American Christians and the suffering of brothers and sisters in Nigeria, for example, some leaders speak of persecution as though it is worthy of the name only if it is of a particularly fantastic variety: prison, torture, beatings, death.  Persecution ends up being a pertinent category only for “those” Christians over “there” in other parts of the world. This, it seems to me, artificially divides the body of Christ. Indeed, we are commanded in Hebrews 13:3 to remember the persecuted as though we are in prison with them since we ourselves are one in body with them. The New Testament calls for us to close the gap in the body of Christ by identifying in united fashion with the persecuted. We can’t do that if we separate ourselves into “those over there” who suffer persecution and “us over here” who do not. That is an artificial, unbiblical distinction.

… There are 3 more reasons to go… stay tuned

Simple Ways to Stay Informed About Christian Persecution


People often ask me how they can stay informed about the persecuted church. I am glad to offer the following resources for those interested in staying up to date about the persecution of Christians around the world.

Persecution Resources Updates news First, there are ministries dedicated to serving the persecuted church. Three of the more popular ministries are Voice of the Martyrs (www.persecution.com); Open Doors (www.opendoors.org); and Barnabas Fund (www.barnabasfund.org), the latter of which operates out of the United Kingdom.  These three organizations have long track records of ministry to the persecuted.

Second, there are research agencies dedicated (at least partially) to discovering the extent Christians are being persecuted around the world.  Among the largest and most respected of these is the Pew Research Center, particularly the Center’s Religion and Public Life Project, which publishes an annual report each January detailing religious hostilities around the world (www.pewforum.org).  In addition to the Pew Research Center’s work, other entities provide global documentation of Christian persecution:

  •          The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), chaired by Dr. Robert P. George, is a bipartisan commission which produces an annual report to the Congress of the United States detailing issues germane to religious freedom from around the world (www.uscirf.gov).
  •          WorldWatch Monitor is a news agency which focuses on the persecution of Christians around the world (www.worldwatchmonitor.org).
  •          Forum 18 is a Norwegian human rights organization which covers religious freedom all over the world, but focuses primary attention on the former Soviet countries (www.forum18.org). The name is derived from Article 18 of the UN Declaration of Human Rights, which promises freedom of religion.
  •          The Hudson Institute Center for Religious Freedom provides publications, Op-eds, and information related to religious freedom in the U.S. and around the world (http://crf.hudson.org/).
  •          China Aid is a human rights organization focused on religious liberty issues in China. Founder Bob Fu was instrumental in negotiating the escape and eventual release of the blind legal activist Chen Guangcheng in 2012 (www.chinaaid.org).
  •          The Center for the Global Study of Christianity is a research institution which works diligently to uncover accurate demographic data “to the ends of the earth.” This center is an outgrowth of work begun by David Barrett and his World Christian Encyclopedia research. This center resides on the campus of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary (http://www.gordonconwell.edu/resources/Center-for-the-Study-of-Global-Christianity.cfm).

The Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission provides information about and raises awareness of religious liberty issues in the U.S. and around the world (www.erlc.com).

Third, Voice of the Martyrs operates a unique web-based ministry for contacting Christian prisoners around the world. The website (www.prisoneralert.com) not only gives updated information about the righteous suffering in prison, but it also offers the opportunity to write an encouraging letter to those brothers and sisters—in their native language! It is a wonderful tool to help Christians obey Hebrews 13:3, remembering those in prison as though in prison with them.

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

Don’t Read This …Unless You’re Ready to Count the Cost of Discipleship


Since my friend Don Whitney posted a Tweet about this incident in Somalia, I have been unable to stop thinking about the sober reality of Christian faith. The world hated Jesus Christ when He ministered among men. And the world hates him still.

Persecution Cost of DiscipleshipThere is a robust theological heritage in Christianity which asserts that humans are sinful by nature. According to John 3, men love the darkness and hate the light. Paul says human beings actively suppress God’s truth in unrighteousness (Romans 1). And Moses, long before either Paul or John lived, said that our hearts are full of evil, continuously, even from our youth (Gn 8:21).

Somewhere along the line, Christians forgot the reality of the sinfulness of sin. I once preached a 35 week series on the sinfulness of sin. A visitor one day asked my wife politely, “Does he ever preach on topics other than sin?” I may have been guilty of overstating the case… maybe. But the situation with the persecuted church today makes me think I could never overstate the awfulness of sin.

The incident in Somalia is a sober reminder to us all of the fact that the world hated Jesus, and the world still hates those who love Him. Jesus is present with His people (Matthew 28; Acts 9; Hebrews 13). The presence of Jesus is odious to unbelieving nostrils. As Paul says, it is the aroma of death to death to some.

Sadly, a group of non-believing Muslims in Somalia sensed the presence of Jesus in the lives of two women, Sadia Ali Omar and Osman Mohamoud Moge. They were cousins. Omar had two daughters, ages 8 and 15. These two girls watched as the Muslim men brought their mother to the middle of town and there beheaded her.

Why were these women beheaded in the town square in Barawa? As with John the Baptist, so it was with these two women: They walked in the way of righteousness. The presence of Christ was with them, and that was unbearable to the Islamic militants of Barawa:

 “We know these two people are Christians who recently came back from Kenya – we want to wipe out any underground Christian living inside of mujahidin [jihadists’] area…”

The mere fact that these were Christians was enough of a crime to justify their being beheaded.  The incident was not about the global war on terror. It was not a political event. It was not about “Muslim-Christian” tensions. It was not extremism—well, it was, but that is really not the point.

The point is simple. As Jesus stated, “You will be hated by all on account of me” (Matthew 10:22).  If you are a believer in Christ, you will be hated. Most likely, neither you nor I will face the severe cruelty of a public beheading in front of our children. But we will be hated by some. Like Jesus, we will love others, but they will sometimes return that love with hate, slander, and persecution.

May our Lord God have mercy on these two girls and the rest of the family members grieving the loss of these two saints martyred in Somalia. Surely, Omar and Moge are absent in the body, but now present with the Lord. Perhaps they, too, are gathered around the Lord’s throne, crying, “How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?”

Simple Ways to Stay Informed about Christian Persecution


Not long ago, I posted a couple of articles concerning why Christian persecution is such a neglected topic both among Christians and non-Christians alike. I’m sure those articles had a negative tone about them because it is difficult to understand why so many people neglect such an important Christian priority. Yet, as Christians, our message and our lives are inherently oriented in the Resurrection of Christ toward the positive–always toward redemption! And I want this to be reflected in my thinking and my writing.

Prayer Persecuted Christian persecutionSo, I was graciously reminded yesterday of how the Lord is stirring His people to share His concern for His suffering church. Two young men came to my office to ask for help in leading a ministry of prayer for the persecuted church. They will be meeting on Thursday nights on the campus of California Baptist University to pray for persecuted Christians around the world. This movement is so refreshing and encouraging. Young Christians are aware of and concerned for the persecuted church.

And these young Christians are not alone. There are a number of good ministries working to serve the persecuted church and to raise awareness for those suffering on account of Christ.  Among those paying attention to Christian persecution, a few organizations stand out.  First, there are ministries dedicated to serving the persecuted church. Three of the more popular ministries are Voice of the Martyrs (www.persecution.com); Open Doors (www.opendoors.org); and Barnabas Fund (www.barnabasfund.org), the latter of which operates out of the United Kingdom.  These three organizations have long track records of ministry to the persecuted.

Second, there are research agencies dedicated (at least partially) to discovering the extent Christians are being persecuted around the world.  Among the largest and most respected of these is the Pew Research Center, particularly the Center’s Religion and Public Life Project, which publishes an annual report each January detailing religious hostilities around the world (www.pewforum.org).  In addition to the Pew Research Center’s work, other entities provide global documentation of Christian persecution:

  • The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), chaired by Dr. Robert P. George, is a bipartisan commission which produces an annual report to the Congress of the United States detailing issues germane to religious freedom around the world (www.uscirf.gov).
  • WorldWatch Monitor is a news agency which focuses on the persecution of Christians around the world (www.worldwatchmonitor.org).
  • Forum 18 is a Norwegian human rights organization which covers religious freedom all over the world, but focuses primary attention on the former Soviet countries (www.forum18.org). The name is derived from Article 18 of the UN Declaration of Human Rights, which promises freedom of religion.
  • The Hudson Institute Center for Religious Freedom provides publications, Op-eds, and information related to religious freedom in the U.S. and around the world (http://crf.hudson.org/).
  • China Aid is a human rights organization focused on religious liberty issues in China. Founder Bob Fu was instrumental in negotiating the escape and eventual release of the blind legal activist Chen Guangcheng in 2012 (www.chinaaid.org).
  • The Center for the Global Study of Christianity is a research institution which works diligently to uncover accurate demographic data “to the ends of the earth.” This center is an outgrowth of work begun by David Barrett and his World Christian Encyclopedia research. This center resides on the campus of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary (http://www.gordonconwell.edu/resources/Center-for-the-Study-of-Global-Christianity.cfm).

The Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission provides information about and raises awareness of religious liberty issues in the U.S. and around the world (www.erlc.com).

We have more access to information about persecution than at any time in history. The internet is an amazing resource if we employ it for good. I am so thankful that many Christians and human rights organizations are employing this resource for the good of the suffering Bride of Christ. May the Lord prosper these ministries.

Will the U.S. House Help Christians Suffering Persecution?


Last week, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom met to offer a report to the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs.  Commissioner Elliott Abrams offered a compelling plea for Congress to take up the cause of persecuted Christians around the world.

By following this link, you can view video testimonies from the hearing, as well as find full text versions of the transcripts of the events. I offer with deep gratitude the following excerpt from Commissioner Abrams’ report:

Christian persecution

Edward Royce
Chairman, U.S. House Committee on Foreign Affairs

 I commend this subcommittee highlighting the gravity of this persecution. Because of your efforts and those of others both within government and beyond, millions of Americans are aware of the egregious mistreatment of individual Christians such as Pastor Saeed Abedini, an Iranian born American citizen imprisoned in Iran. Pastor Abedini was sentenced to eight years in prison for daring to live out the full dimensions of his faith under a theocratic dictatorship which seeks monopoly status in the public square for its own beliefs. USCIRF has highlighted his case and continues to urge our government to press the Iranian government to release him immediately.

Unfortunately, the Iranian government’s mistreatment of Pastor Abedini reflects the stark and disturbing reality for many Christians seeking to live out their beliefs in country after country across the globe. There are more than two billion Christians in the world — which is nearly one third of the world’s population, and in one-third of all nations, containing 75 percent of the world’s population, governments either perpetrate or permit serious violations of the religious freedom rights of their citizens. A recent report of a 6-year study from the Pew Research Center found that Christians were harassed in 151 countries, the largest number of any group surveyed, and in many of these countries the conditions for religious freedom are awful. In other words, given their large numbers and wide dispersion across countries, and given the poor status of religious freedom in many of these states, it is unfortunately no surprise that Christians so often fall victim to persecution. 

In addition to these factors, there are other elements that explain not just the fact of Christians being persecuted, but the reasons for their persecution. To a disproportionate extent, Christians in many of these nations signify the “other.” They often are members of ethnic or language minorities, or are viewed as linked to the West and Western interests. In many of these nations, Christianity also represents an alternative source of authority, thereby posing a direct threat both to tyrannical governments and extremist private actors.

In addition to these factors, there are other elements that explain not just the fact of Christians being persecuted, but the reasons for their persecution. To a disproportionate extent, Christians in many of these nations signify the “other.” They often are members of ethnic or language minorities, or are viewed as linked to the West and Western interests. In many of these nations, Christianity also represents an alternative source of authority, thereby posing a direct threat both to tyrannical governments and extremist private actors.

Again, the entire session with transcripts is available here. Please share this information with your friends and family.

 

Why Are Christians Neglecting Persecution Studies?


More than five decades ago, Eberhard Bethge, a close friend and biographer of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, lamented the manner in which Protestants neglected the study of martyrs. He offered two basic reasons for such neglect:

Protestants deplore the martyr worship present in part of the Catholic tradition. And Protestants are a bit squeamish emotionally when it comes to thinking about suffering on account of Christ.

Persecution Study NeglectedObviously, I have over-simplified Bethge’s two points. This post is not attempting to be technically precise concerning why the study of persecution and martyrdom is still neglected by Protestants.  Instead, my aim is simply to show that the problem pointed out by Bethge is still haunting us today.  Recently, John. L. Allen bemoaned the lack of persecution studies among Christians.

While Allen notes the easily explained absence of reporting on Christian persecution by secular outlets, he has a harder time explaining the absence of reporting by Christian sources.  Allen offers four possible reasons Christians aren’t tracking the suffering of brothers and sisters around the world. (1) Christians in America and in the West simply don’t identify with the persecuted church. How can an American Christian relate to someone like Christianah Oluwatoyin Oluwasesin, who was beaten and burned to death because she was a Christian teacher in a Muslim school in Nigeria?  We have a very difficult time relating to what seems so fantastic and so unreal; thus we aren’t sure what to do with the information once we find it. More important, we don’t go looking for it in the first place.

(2) Another reason Christians are silent instead of investigating, reporting, and researching Christian persecution is that the topic itself is disconcerting. By nature, persecution challenges shallow faith and comfortable Christianity.  From my own experience as an advocate for the persecuted church over the past 15 years, I can affirm that many Christians—including pastors—are not comfortable hearing about persecution. While from a doctrinal perspective, we decry health-and-wealth, prosperity preaching, we, too often, actually prefer a Christian experience that is comfortable and safe for the whole family. Why confront a problem if it makes us so uncomfortable? It’s easier to leave the matter alone.

(3) Christian persecution is a neglected topic of study and research because it requires hard work and serious resources to investigate and ferret out the details of the incidents, and, often, incidents happen in places difficult to reach. Christian entities in the West tend to use their resources in other ways and cannot fathom expending exorbitant amounts of cash to study persecution on the islands of Indonesia or in the sub-Saharan countries of Africa. Christian resources are limited.

(4) Christians also suffer the malady of “good cause” fatigue. Because no one is talking much about persecution, it gets displaced by other, more celebrated Christian causes: evangelism, missions, unreached people groups, church planting, church growth, pro-life issues, and other political concerns. In short, persecution isn’t really on the American Christian radar as a church priority.

So, for all these reasons—and probably others which have not been mentioned—Christian persecution research is lacking. What other reasons might explain Christian neglect of persecution studies?

Is Phil Robertson of Duck Dynasty Suffering Christian Persecution?


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why Give a Definition of Christian Persecution?


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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